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Life of St. Melania 

By His Eminence 

Translated by E. LEAHY, and 







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CENTURIES ... ... ... ... i 





A DISCUSSION upon the literary recreations of 
statesmen out of office might form an interesting chapter 
in any new edition of the Curiosities of Literature. 
Mr. Disraeli and Mr. Gladstone, as we are all aware, 
used in turns to find solace for the reverses of political 
fortune by the ardour of their devotion to letters. If 
this devotion took very divergent forms, according to 
their respective and varying tastes, it none the less 
lent a certain impressiveness to the whole arena of 
statecraft in which they were the acknowledged leaders. 
So no one who knows anything of the history of the 
last Conclave can fail to realise that when Cardinal 
Rampolla, less than three years after his dignified sub- 
mission to the veto of a hostile government, published 
a stately folio attesting his continued allegiance to the 
studies which had been his first love*, he not only set 
a great example of Christian fortitude, but once more 
justified the choice which had made him both Prince 
of the Church and one of its most influential admini- 
strators. As Abbot Cuthbert Butler, than whom no 
one more competent to pronounce judgment, has 
written in our leading theological review : 

11 That such a book should have been produced by 
one who for nearly twenty years had borne the burdens 

* Santa Melanin Giuniore, Senatrice Romano. ; Document! Con- 
temporanei e Note. Published with facsimiles, &c., by the Vatican 
Press, Rome, 1905. 


which now fall on a Cardinal Secretary of State, and 
a Secretary of State under a master so active and 
exacting as Leo XIII., is certainly a phenomenon. 
For in this volume Cardinal Rampolla shows that on 
the common basis of scholarship and learning he can 
meet on equality professional scholars." (The Journal 
of Theological Studies , VII., 632). 

As for the contents of the Cardinal's great work, it 
consists of an edition of the Latin and Greek texts of 
the Life of St. Melania the Younger, the Latin text, 
as His Eminence explains, having been first dis- 
covered by himself now nearly twenty-five years ago 
in the library of the Escurial. But over and above 
the text, his volume has served as the shrine of an 
immense apparatus of miscellaneous learning. In 
the words of Abbot Butler's notice just referred to, the 
book " probably contains all that can be known from 
extant materials concerning the younger Melania and 
the whole circle in which she moved." 

To translate the whole monograph in its entirety 
just as Cardinal Rampolla has given it to the world 
would require a volume of more than a thousand 
octavo pages, neither would the vast array of biblio- 
graphical references and the many minute points of 
erudition upon which the author spends so much space 
and learning have any interest for the general reader. 
Those who are keen about investigating such details 
are usually in a position to study the original for 
themselves without difficulty. At the same time the 
illustrious author, amid other matters of diversified 
interest, has incorporated in his work a straight- 
forward summary of the history of St. Melania and 


her times, which, in the opinion of the translator and 
the friends whom she consulted, it was well worth 
while to render accessible to an English public. 
With the generous permission of His Eminence 
Cardinal Rampolla, this has been attempted in the 
present volume ; while the author's biographical sketch 
has here and there been supplemented, where an 
interpolation seemed feasible without interference with 
the sequence of thought, by sundry passages trans- 
lated directly from the Latin or Greek text of the 
original Life. It is hoped that the result of this 
patchwork will be found to read not too unevenly as a 
piece of continuous narrative. 

There are Saints' Lives and Saints' Lives. In no 
species of serious composition, as Father Delehaye, 
the Bollandist, has lately instructed us, have so many 
different types of historically worthless materials 
folk-lore, myth, legend, not to speak of pure fabrica- 
tion palmed themselves off upon the unsuspecting 
good faith of the pious believer. We might almost 
say that the bulk of these documents, especially those 
belonging to certain specified epochs, are devoid of 
any touch of human individuality. They are like the 
portraits of Holy Doctors or Virgins, painted according 
to the canons of Byzantine art. We might shuffle 
all the names and almost all the dates, and the new 
arrangement would be just as near the truth, as much 
or as little instructive as the old. Miracles abound in 
such records, together with virtues and moral reflec- 
tions of the most approved quality, but there is 
nothing for the memory to lay hold of. To have read 
one is to have read them all. 


Still, there are some few remarkable exceptions to 
be found in this incredibly weary waste of banality 
and tediousness. Here and there, the searcher, in 
turning over the leaves of old lectionaries and passion- 
aries, whether Latin or Greek, will light upon some 
really human document, which will well repay him 
for the trouble he has taken. It may be a set of Acts 
of some martyrdom in Rome or Asia Minor, embody- 
ing fragments of the official interrogatories of the 
prisoner, or the description of an eye-witness. It may 
be the brief memoir, dictated by some hermit in the 
desert, full of vivid touches, breathing the very atmo- 
sphere of those strange surroundings. It may be the 
narrative of the life of some great teacher or religious 
foundress, written down according to the faithful 
memory of a disciple, one who is far too impressed 
with the holiness of his subject to tamper with the 
truth, or alter in one tittle the facts of which his eyes 
and ears were the witnesses. 

Such is the Life of St. Melania the Younger^ which 
Cardinal Rampolla was the first to give to the world 
entire. He has edited it with a wealth of erudition 
which few of those who used to discuss the Cardinal 
Secretary of State so freely would have dreamed of 
connecting with his name ; but valuable as are the intro- 
duction, notes, and dissertations which form the bulk 
of his handsome volume, the most precious part of all 
is the text itself, emphatically a human document, 
belonging to one of the most interesting periods of 
Christian history. St. Melania was born in A.D. 383, 
and died in 439. She spent her early life, of which a 
full account is given, in Rome, travelled all over the 


Roman world, and finally settled in Jerusalem, where 
she met St. Jerome in his declining years. The Life 
consequently belongs to that extraordinarily interest- 
ing period of the break up of paganism and the early 
incursions of the barbarians, the last days of Roman 
greatness before Constantinople became the permanent 
centre of empire. The narrator writes as one who 
had been the devoted servant of the Saint, who had 
accompanied her and her husband in some of their 
wanderings, and who finally became a priest and 
inmate of an affiliated religious establishment in 
Jerusalem, the association embracing both monks and 
nuns (like the double monasteries of England a few 
centuries later), of which St. Melania was both 
foundress and Superior. The general features and 
even the details of the story have long been known 
through the redaction of the so-called Metaphrast, 
belonging to a much later century. But the stilted 
and characterless phraseology of the Metaphrast 
leaves a very different picture from the vigorous if 
rude language of the contemporary who had lived 
with the Saint and loved her. We should be inclined 
to consider it one of the most deeply interesting 
hagiographical documents which the early Church has 
preserved to us. 

The living interest of the narrative strikes us from 
the very first sentences of the biographer's quaint 
dedication, addressed to some unknown Bishop : 

"Blessed be God," he says, "who prompted thy 
honoured person, O most holy priest of God, to write 
to my insignificance, encouraging me to tell the story 
of the life of our most blessed mother Melania, now 


dwelling with the Angels. At first I resisted thy 
Holiness because I was not equal to such a work. 
But just as God, when Moses demurred about 
governing His people, did not yield to him, but gave 
him his brother to help him, so thou, O priest of Christ, 
hast lent thy prayers in order to aid me in my task. 
For me even this is not assistance enough, for I think 
that surely no one would be able to tell her virtues, 
the glowing heat of her renunciation, her faith or her 
benefactions or her watchings ; or again, her death, 
her patient endurance, or her abstemiousness, her 
gentleness, her humility, or the scantiness of her 
apparel. It is true that Holy Scripture says : ' Give 
the wise man opportunity and he will become wiser 
yet ' ; but, I fear lest, while wishing as I do to declare 
her praises, I should rather do her an injury through 
telling my story ill. Still, I have likened myself to 
the fisher-folk casting their lines into the water, who 
know well that they cannot fish up all the fish in the 
sea, and that, not even if all the fishermen in the world 
assembled together, could they do it any the better, 
but yet each of them doing his utmost as well as he is 
able, gathers in the end a goodly store." 

How living and real is the personal interest of the 
narrative, despite the biographer's many apologies for 
his shortcomings, may best be illustrated by a passage 
which has accidently escaped transcription in the pages 
which follow, but which well deserves to be preserved. 
Melania, the great Roman heiress, was married, as we 
shall see, at the age of only fourteen years, and much 
against her will, to one Pinianus, a noble young 
Christian, who was destined later on to become, 


through his wife's influence, the sharer of all her 
ascetical practices. At the very outset of their married 
life, Melania made a desperate effort to persuade her 
husband to live with her merely as a dear brother. 
To this Pinianus would not at first consent, but 
eventually, when he had learnt to see an indication of 
God's will in the premature death of the two children 
that were born to them, he assented to his wife's desire 
in this matter, though in other things he still clung to 
the world, and more particularly to the style and dress 
suited to his senatorial rank. Some years passed in 
this fashion, years marked no doubt by his bride's 
unceasing prayers in secret that he, like herself, might 
become enamoured of the poverty of Christ. But, as 
we learn from the Latin text of the Life 

" One day the Saint, taking Pinianus aside, began 
tenderly and respectfully to question him. What she 
asked was whether carnal love had still any place in 
his heart, whether it ever occurred to him now to 
think of her as a wife. Pinianus, with a smiling face, 
and full of the joy of the Lord, answered her cheerily, 
* Happy art thou to love thy husband after such sort. 
Be satisfied on my account, quite satisfied in our Lord, 
that ever since we made together our promise to God, 
I have had just the same feeling for thee as for Albina, 
thy saintly mother.' On hearing these words Melania 
kissed him upon the breast and upon the hands, and 
gave glory to God for this firm resolution. But a few 
days afterwards, anxious that he should always advance 
in perfection, she said to him again ; f Pinianus, my 
lord, listen to me as a mother, as thy spiritual sister ; 
lay aside these costly Cilician robes, dress thyself in 


more sober fashion.' Like the boy that he was, 
Pinianus, on hearing this, was rather cast down, but 
in order that he might not see her look unhappy, and 
knowing that all was done for God and for his own 
eternal welfare, he assented with a good grace, and 
began to dress in the cheaper garments of Antioch. 
But Melania, like a busy bee, was eager to add flower 
to flower on his behalf. She pressed him to adopt an 
even coarser dress, and this in fact he did. Eventually 
his clothes cost no more than a gold piece, or two 
thirds of a gold piece, and Melania fashioned them for 
him herself out of the cheapest natural wool without 
dye of any sort." 

There is something wonderfully delicate and natural 
about the flavour of all this. Perhaps some such touch 
of what we might almost call a sweet playfulness, if it 
were not for the earnest purpose which underlies the 
whole, was needed to relieve that sterner impression 
which Melania's apostolate of asceticism could hardly 
fail to produce. In any case there can be no two 
opinions as to the lifelike character of this peep into 
the domestic relations of these noble souls. For this 
reason alone I should find it hard to believe that the 
incident, which appears in this form in the Latin text 
only, had been recorded by any other hand than that 
of the chaplain who knew them both so intimately. 

In the elaborate apparatus of introduction, notes 
and appendices with which Cardinal Rampolla has 
equipped his edition of the texts preserved to us, the 
view is defended that the Latin redaction is the older, 
and that it may be regarded as representing more 
accurately the original, penned probably in that 


language by Gerontius within a few years of the 
Saint's death at Jerusalem. As might be expected of 
a work of such importance, which more than any other 
document of the period abounds in local colouring, 
the Cardinal's monograph has been freely discussed. 
In particular M. 1'Abbe Adhemar d'Ales, Professor at 
the Institut Catholique of Paris, after two very appre- 
ciative articles in the Etudes*, has contributed to the 
Analecta Bollandiana a minute and painstaking study 
of certain significant passages in the Latin and Greek 
texts of the Life. In his opinion, which in this 
respect runs counter to the views of the illustrious 
editor and those of Professor Diekamp,t the original 
was written by Gerontius in Greek, and the Latin text 
which we now possess offers only a later and some- 
what unintelligent adaptation of that original by 
another hand. The dispute is not one which could be 
reviewed in any detail in a popular work like the 
present, but I may, perhaps, he permitted to record 
here my own theory, already advanced in the Month^ 
that the biographer himself was responsible for both 
redactions. Granted that he posessed a sufficient 
knowledge of Latin, which seems to follow from the 
fact (mentioned by Peter the Iberian) that he always 
used the Roman liturgy in Melania's own oratory at 
Jerusalem, it would seem natural enough that he 
should himself tell his story twice over, with variations, 
for different audiences. To my thinking, this sup- 

* Etudes, July 2oth, 1906, and August soth, 1906. 

t Theologische Revue, May 22nd, 1906. 
J The Month, November, 1906, pp. 510 and 517. 


position presents less difficulty than the theory of a 
Greek original, which no longer survives, modified 
first of all by a Greek editor and then by a Latin one, 
neither of whom had any scruple in departing from or 
rearranging the text of the prototype. Abbe Adhemar 
d'Ales assigns our existing Greek text to about the 
year 47^ and he believes the Latin to be of somewhat 
later date. Cardinal Rampolla, on the other hand, 
regards the Latin as the original language in which 
the prototype was composed, our present Latin text 
having been written down in the lifetime of Gerontius, 
the author, while the Greek recension belongs to the 
next century. But the dispute is in any case of little 
practical importance, and I may follow the example of 
M. Georges Goyau who, in his admirable article in the 
Revue des deux Mondes, afterwards expanded into a 
complete biography in the series " Les Saints," has 
utilized the details furnished by both texts as contri- 
butions of equal value for the history of the Saint. 
Indeed, this has been the course followed in practice 
by all who have written on the subject, and M. 1'Abbe 
d'Ales himself, in his more popular articles in the 
Etudes, has not hesitated to draw largely upon the 
data which are furnished by the Latin recension alone. 
In conclusion, I can only express a hope that the 
modified and much curtailed presentment of Cardinal 
Rampolla's work contained in the pages which 
follow may not be hindered by its incompleteness 
from affording some indication of the importance 
of his researches, and in particular may not fail to 
convey a truthful impression of the Saint whose 


figure stood out so grandly in the midst of a decadent 
and corrupt age not too dissimilar from that in which 
we live. 



Cardinal Rampolla's Preface. 

IT has not been our intention in the following 
sketch to provide a complete life of Saint Melania 
the Younger. This is a task we willingly leave to the 
wiser and more skilful pens of others. We merely 
wish to outline, however roughly, the splendid figure 
of this noble Roman lady, and to summarise the 
authentic sources of information regarding her career. 
Until recently, it must be confessed, we had no record 
of the Saint except what was left to us in the Greek 
tongue by Simon Logothetes better known under the 
name of the Metaphrast and a few allusions in the 
Historia Lausiaca of Palladius. The incidental 
references to her which we find scattered here and 
there in the writings of Saint Paulinus of Nola, of 
Saint Augustine, and of Saint Jerome, are limited 
to passing allusions and particular incidents, which 
might be of use for the knowledge of certain details 
or to clear up some isolated point in dispute, but 
which could never constitute the basis of a biography. 
In the West, the memory of the Roman heroine was 
completely obscured and forgotten until quite late in 
the middle ages. The first to revive it was Peter de 



Natalibus, who, in the year 1382, gave a very brief 
synopsis of the references to the Saint found in that 
Latin version of Palladius' work which was current in 
his time. Later historians and hagiographers, even 
of eminence, confined themselves, it might be said, 
almost exclusively either to the Latin version of the 
Metaphrast, which was very imperfectly rendered by 
Surius, or to the incomplete and interpolated text of 
Palladius, the source of not a few historical and 
chronological errors. It is also surprising to find that 
writers of still more recent times, whilst attaching 
importance to the documents which have recently 
come to light, have nevertheless passed over the 
Natale XIII. of S. Paulinus of Nola, which was 
discovered by Muratori towards the end of 1697, and 
which contains precious information regarding 
Melania and her husband Pinianus. 

Such were, even in our own days, the only available 
sources of historical information, when in the October 
of the year 1884, during a brief sojourn in the Royal 
Monastery of the Escurial, we availed ourselves of the 
courteous permission of the Librarian to examine some 
codices in the important collection with which Philip II. 
has enriched that wonderful building. Amongst the 
other manuscripts we came across one which at once 
attracted our attention. It was the Life of Saint 
Melania the Younger in a Latin text hitherto unknown. 
As we rapidly perused it, we were struck with the 
simplicity of the style, and the abundance of detail 


as well as with the authoritative information of the 
writer, who was evidently a contemporary of the 
Saint, and an eye-witness of the facts which he related. 
It was not an easy matter to deal with an unpublished 
-document of the first half of the fourth century, 
therefore we set about transcribing it as accurately as 
possible with our own hand. Other anxious cares 
prevented us for a long time from making this copy 
known, and it thus remained hidden for several years. 
Meanwhile, in 1885, Molinier and Kohler* published 
certain passages of a codex in the Bibliotheque Nationale 
of Paris, which treated of Melania's travels in Northern 
Africa, Egypt and Palestine. Four years later, 
through the efforts of the learned Father de Smedt 
and his Bollandist colleagues, there was published 
all that remained of the Life of Saint Melania the 
Younger in the same codex, and in another still more 
ancient one in the Library of Chartres, both of them, 
however, mutilated. The distinguished editor 
.supplied the gaps by falling back upon the Latin 
version of the Greek text of the Metaphrast. In April, 
1900, the second International Congress of Christian 
Archaeology met in Rome. Yielding to the courteous 
insistence of the Committee, we communicated to the 
Congress a compendious notice of the whole text of 
the biography of the holy matron which we had 
discovered fifteen years before, to which we added 
.some general observations, with the view of throwing 

* Analecta Bollandiano, t. VIII., p. 16-23. 


into relief its exceptional importance. This com- 
munication was received with indulgent favour. 

In our studies of the Life of Saint Melania we 
received much encouragement from high authorities, 
especially from the Bollandists, just mentioned, who 
were anxious to have a document of such moment 
printed entire. We are now in a position to 
correspond with this desire, and we are the better able 
to do so owing to the discovery of fresh manuscripts 
by the same Bollandist Fathers, more particularly of 
a copy of the Greek text of Saint Melania's Life. 
These materials have enabled us to publish the text of 
the Escurial in a more accurate form, with the addition 
of a critical apparatus. 

And here a few words may be said of the author of 
Melania's biography. In this work he clearly reveals 
himself to us as the Saint's familiar friend, the 
companion of her travels, and her chaplain. 

In the year 404 he was living in Rome, and accom- 
panied Melania on the occasion of her visit to the 
Princess Serena. He was also with her in 439, in 
the Monastery on Mount Olivet, where he was present 
at her holy death and shared in the general sorrow for 
her loss. He gratefully acknowledges that it was to 
Melania he owed his conversion from a life of world- 
liness, and the subsequent grace of the priesthood. He 
accompanied Melania in all her travels in Africa, 
Jerusalem, and Constantinople. He received from her 
the charge to build a monastery for men on Mount 


Olivet, and assisted her in the direction of her monastery 
for virgins. At her death he assumed the government 
of both monasteries on Mount Olivet. Now, we know 
for certain from Cyril of Scythopolis, a very reliable 
writer of the sixth century, that Melania's successor in 
the direction of the monasteries of Palestine was one 
Gerontius, of whom Cyril wrote that he was the 
successor of the Blessed Melania. Saint Melania died 
on the 3ist December, 439, and Gerontius, her 
successor, continued to govern the monasteries until 
485, a period of forty-five years. 

Peter the Iberian, who was at one time a fervent 
Catholic and a devoted client of Melania, was a con- 
temporary of Gerontius. After the Council of 
Chalcedon, he allowed himself to be drawn into the 
Monophysite heresy by Theodosius, who had thrust 
himself into the Bishopric of Jerusalem. Peter the 
Iberian was consecrated Bishop of Majuma, near 
Gaza, in Palestine. He had lived for some years in 
the Saint's Monastery, together with a certain John, 
who came with him from Constantinople. Peter had 
intimate relations with Melania's chaplain, from whom 
he received the religious habit. 

Now, the anonymous biographer of Peter the Iberian 
tells us definitely that the priest who was superior of 
Melania's monastery at Mount Olivet was no other 
than Gerontius, a native of Jerusalem, who, on account 
of his noble and virtuous disposition, had been brought 
up from childhood by Melania and Pinianus, adding 


that his virtues merited for him ordination to the 
priesthood. But the whole passage is of importance 
and deserves to be quoted in full. The exact words of 
Peter's anonymous biographer are as follows : 

"This Gerontius, originally from Jerusalem, who 

enjoyed very wide renown, received when a child all 

that was necessary for his maintenance from Saint 

Melania and her consort. Having been piously 

brought up in their house, he was judged worthy to 

receive the holy habit of the monks, for he was 

remarkable for his irreproachable conduct. Therefore 

they both took him to the Holy Sepulchre of our 

Lord, and gave him the habit on the mountain, and 

thus he was, so to say, invested with it by the hands 

of Our Lord Himself, after he had prayed that God 

would bestow upon him with the habit the three gifts 

of right faith, of holiness, and of tears. He was, 

indeed, favoured with these three gifts, especially with 

the gift of tears ; so that being the priest and the 

superior of the monasteries of Mount Olivet, he often 

on the same day of the week celebrated three masses, 

one on the holy mount, a second in the monastery for 

men, and the third in the monastery for women. 

During the remaining time, he celebrated in private 

for Saint Melania, according to the custom of the 

Church of Rome ; and at each of these assemblies, 

from the beginning of the mass until the end, he shed 

tears so copiously, accompanied by such expressions 

of sorrow and of contrition, that the whole congrega- 


tion could not refrain from bursting out into cries, 
groans and lamentations." 

Further testimony regarding Gerontius is afforded 
by John, Bishop of Majuma, who was a native of 
Southern Palestine. During the administration of 
Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch (512-518), he wrote 
a work of considerable import^.ice, entitled the 
Plerophorice, consisting of anecdotes favourable to the 
Monophysites, which were mostly contributed by Peter 
the Iberian. These have been preserved to us in a 
Syriac codex, now in the British Museum, which was 
written in 875, and of which F. Nau, in 1898, 
published a French translation. Now in the XLI. 
chapter of the work Bishop John relates that in 
consequence of a grave nocturnal scandal which had 
occurred in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre through 
the behaviour of an unworthy deacon, the whole city 
was seized with terror, and that Peter the Iberian 
told his monks that "Gerontius, the deacon of Blessed 
Melania's monastery, from that day fasted twice 
whenever he had to take part in the evening office." 
After this clear testimony from such varied sources, 
from writers both in the Catholic and in the Mono- 
physite camp, we are forced to the conclusion that 
Gerontius is without doubt the priest to whose care 
Melania confided the direction of her monasteries, and 
that he is consequently the author of the Life of which 
we are now treating. 

Gerontius regarded Melania as his spiritual mother, 


and during her lifetime was devotedly attached to her 
as one from whom he had received so many benefits. 
He was her constant companion, accompanying her 
to Africa, to Jerusalem, and to Constantinople. He 
does not mention that he was also with her on the 
occasion of her second visit to the monasteries of 
Egypt. He seldom speaks of himself, but even these 
brief allusions reveal to us his modesty, his piety, and 
his zeal in co-operating with Melania for the welfare 
of the monasteries which she founded. We have 
striking proof of this zeal in the beautiful Monastery 
of the Ascension, which was erected under his direction 
about the year 436, in an incredibly short space of 
time. His kindliness and his strict veracity are also 
clearly discernible. 

He does not, indeed, seem to have been a scholar 
conspicuous for literary culture. He was rather a 
simple, God-fearing man, wholly devoted to the 
monastic life and the offices of religion. Melania, who 
had educated him, and thus knew his virtue, esteemed 
him so highly that she admitted him to her intimate 
friendship and reposed the utmost confidence in him. 
The fact that the Saint regarded him as worthy to be 
entrusted with the care of her monasteries is an 
indisputable proof of the excellent qualities of 
Gerontius. He gives us no indication in his writings 
of the exceptionally fervent piety and the gift of tears 
which the author of the Life of Peter the Iberian 
attributes to him. His practice of sometimes saying 


three Masses on the one day was not contrary to the 
discipline then prevailing, which alloAved a certain 
liberty in that respect. It only proves that Melania 
had but one chaplain to provide the religious services 
of her monasteries. What the author of the Life of 
Peter the Iberian tells us is confirmed in Saint Melania's 
own biography at least with regard to her last years 
on earth. Of the three Masses said by Gerontius on 
the same day, one was for the monks of the Ascension 
monastery and one for those of the monastery erected 
near the graves of Pinianus and Albina. The third 
Mass was celebrated in the monastery in which Melania 
resided, and to which an oratory was attached, where 
the Holy Sacrifice was offered on every Sunday and 
Friday, as well as on festivals. Saint Melania's bio- 
grapher tells us that she communicated every day, 
according to the practice in Rome. It would seem 
therefore that she assisted at the Mass which was said 
daily for her by her chaplain. 

Readers who are not familiar with the customs of 
the early centuries may also regard it as very im- 
probable that Gerontius should have received the 
monk's habit from Saint Melania, as described by the 
biographer of Peter the Iberian. But if we bear in 
mind that everyone was free in that age to put on the 
religious habit how and when he pleased, that it was a 
purely private act, which was performed without the 
intervention of any authority, and unaccompanied by 
any form of ritual, we shall not feel surprised that 


Gerontius should have received it from a woman. We 
have an example recorded, belonging to the same 
period which proves how worthy of credence the 
biographer's statement is in itself. When the famous 
Evagrius Ponticus fled from the allurements of Con- 
stantinople he went to Jerusalem, where he was enter- 
tained by the elder Melania. Upon his recovery from 
illness he was drawn to embrace the monastic life, and, 
we are told, received the religious habit from his hostess. 

The monasteries founded by Melania continued ta 
flourish under the direction of Gerontius for twelve 
years after her death, until the promulgation of the 
decrees of the Council of Chalcedon (November, 451). 
Whether owing to the esteem of the Empress 
Eudoxia for the Saint's foundations and the 
generosity she showed them, or on account of the 
celebrity which Melania herself had acquired and the 
universal veneration in which she was held, Gerontius, 
as we shall see, occupied a position enjoying con- 
siderable prestige amongst the other monks in the 
Holy Land. Suddenly, an unexpected whirlwind 
burst over the flourishing churches and monasteries- 
of Palestine, and overwhelmed them in destruction. 
Melania's foundations did not escape the general ruin, 
as unfortunately their superior, Gerontius, was one of 
the principal victims. 

The doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon with 
regard to the heresy of Eutyches was the cause of the 
disaster. This forms a sad page in Palestinian 


History, and is well worthy of elucidation in the light 
of certain documents only recently discovered. 

Upon the termination of the Council of Chalcedon, 
in November, 451, Theodosius, a monk from 
Alexandria, who had supported the cause of Eutyches,. 
went to Jerusalem, where, by misrepresenting the 
meaning of the definitions of the Council, he succeeded 
in confusing the simple and little cultivated minds of 
the monks in the Holy Land. He created disturbances 
amongst the people, who broke out into deplorable 
excesses. They regarded the Fathers of the Chalce- 
don Council as contravening the teaching of the 
Synod of Ephesus, which had condemned the errors of 
Nestorius. By skilfully fanning the flame, Theo- 
dosius managed to create a general revolt against the 
new decrees of the Council. Very soon this agitation, 
to which other important causes contributed, produced 
the gravest results. On Easter Sunday, 452,. 
Theodosius, having driven away Juvenal, the rightful 
bishop, installed himself in the episcopal seat in the 
Church at Jerusalem. Juvenal, meanwhile, repaired 
to Constantinople. The orthodox bishops having 
been expelled from Palestine, their sees were filled by 
the adherents of Theodosius. Amongst these was 
Peter the Iberian, who was appointed to the See of 
Majuma. All the monastic communities in the 
province, and the number was very large, together 
with ten thousand other monks, withdrew from 
Juvenal, and unanimously submitted to the usurper,. 


Theodosius, who ruled alone, and held all under his 
authority. One monastery only, through the means 
of Saint Euthymius, remained faithful. Saint 
Euthymius had been correctly informed by his pupil 
Stephen, Bishop of Jamnia, who had taken part in 
the Council, of the intention and the real belief of the 
Fathers. Hence the Saint, with all the monks of his 
laura at Faran, adhered to the Chalcedonian doctrine. 
With this exception, in a short time, Palestine became 
the stronghold of Monophysite error. 

We cannot doubt the good faith of the greater 
number of these monks who were deceived by the 
astute Theodosius. When the Emperor Marcianus 
asked them to submit to the decrees of Chalcedon, 
they replied that they certainly condemned the heresy 
of Eutyches, who maintained that Christ's human 
nature was wholly absorbed in the Divine ; but, on the 
other hand, they rejected the doctrine of the two 
natures in Christ. Their intelligence was too unculti- 
vated to enable them to distinguish between person 
and nature. Hence they maintained that to admit 
two natures in Christ was tantamount to admitting 
two persons, and thus reviving the Nestorian heresy. 
The error of the monks of Palestine was in effect a 
species of monotheism which must be distinguished 
from the heresy of Eutyches. Meanwhile, the Pope, 
Saint Leo, treated the rebels with the utmost 
benignity. At first he was not accurately informed of 
their theological position, and hence he called their 


resistance insanam imperitiam monachorum. Later it 
came to his knowledge that, through the exertions of 
some ignorant or malicious person, a false Greek 
translation of his famous letter to Flavianus, upon 
which the decrees of the Council were based, had been 
circulated amongst these monasteries. This trans- 
lation, by altering his meaning, had been the cause 
of serious scandal. The Pope, on learning this, 
addressed a paternal letter to the monks, which was at 
once doctrinal and admonitory. He hoped to afford 
them an easy retreat from the false position in which 
they had placed themselves. But the great Pontiffs 
apostolic solicitude had not at once the desired effect. 
In this sad revolt from authority, Gerontius' part was 
by no means a secondary one. It is easy to perceive 
that he was regarded as one of the most influential of 
the cenobites of the Holy Land. As a proof of this, 
Cyril of Scythopolis relates that the usurper, 
Theodosius, wished to procure the submission of the 
only monastery which rejected his submission, namely r 
that of Euthymius, situated a short distance from 
Jerusalem. Finding himself unable to secure an 
interview with Euthymius, he sent an embassy, 
consisting of Elpidius and Gerontius, of whom one 
was the successor of the great Passarion, and the other 
the representative of the Blessed Melania, to dispute 
with him and to convince him. To be employed on 
such an errand these two monks must have enjoyed: 
much prestige and authority amongst their brethren. 


Unfortunately it so happened that whilst Euthymius 
succeeded in convincing Elpidius of the orthodoxy of 
the Council of Chalcedon, although he preferred to 
remain in communion with Theodosius, Gerontius 
held firmly to his previous opinions, in which he 
never wavered, until the year 485, when he finally 
resigned the direction of the monasteries entrusted to 
him by Saint Melania. 

Various causes seem to have contributed to the 
obstinate resistance of Gerontius. Foremost amongst 
these was his intense hatred of the Nestorian heresy 
which he had inherited from Melania. In fact, the 
Saint, in her burning zeal for the true faith, had 
exercised, during her life time, a real apostolate 
in defence of Catholic teaching and against 

It was this ardent defence of the truth which 
strengthened the bonds of friendship which united 
Saint Melania to the great champion of the Council of 
Ephesus, Saint Cyril of Alexandria. When she 
afterwards visited the court of Constantinople she 
converted, by her eloquent words, many of the 
nobility who had been drawn into the heresy of 
Nestorius. It was impossible that Gerontius, who 
had been a witness of all this, should not be filled 
with the same ardent feelings as his saintly bene- 
factress. To this must be added the falsification of 
the documents of the Fathers which had taken place in 
Palestine, by means of which the conviction that the 


Council of Chalcedon had betrayed the faith as defined 
by the Council of Ephesus, had taken deep root in the 
minds of these imperfectly educated ascetics. But 
there were also two other very definite motives which 
probably even more strongly urged Gerontius to 
resistance his personal relations with the Empress 
Eudoxia and with Peter the Iberian. 

Upon the nature of the influence exerted by these 
two distinguished personages it does not seem 
necessary to dwell. It can only be said that the 
motives which weighed with Gerontius in this 
obstinate resistance to the decrees of Chalcedon do 
not seem to have been altogether unworthy. Both 
the Empress and also Peter the Iberian, whose 
romantic career shows him to have been a far from 
ignoble character, had been numbered by Saint 
Melania amongst her more devoted friends. Peter in 
particular, like Gerontius himself, had entered one of 
Melania's monasteries while she was still living, and 
must presumably have been regarded as her spiritual 
son. In any case the particulars above rehearsed help 
to throw light upon the part taken by Gerontius in 
the revolt of the monks of Palestine. The close 
friendship existing between him and Peter the Iberian, 
combined with the great prestige of the latter and 
his eminent personal gifts, undoubtedly contributed 
to strengthen both in their obstinate adherence to 
their opinions. These two souls were dear to 
Melania's heart. She had received both with a 


mother's tender love. What a sorrow for her could 
she have foreseen their fall ! Perhaps it was some 
prophetic instinct which caused the Saint, when 
investing Gerontius with the religious habit at the 
Sepulchre of Our Divine Redeemer, to pour forth 
such fervent prayers that he might receive the gift 
of true faith. Alas, through the mysterious obstacles 
sometimes opposed by the will of man to the action 
of Divine Grace, the Saint's prayers were ineffectual. 

And now in closing this brief account of Melania's 
biographer, we may invite the reader to peruse the 
summary, in which we have tried to collect and sift 
the scattered materials for the life of the Saint herself. 
It is our earnest wish that this study of fourth century 
history may succeed in throwing fresh light upon the 
times in which, and the persons amongst whom she 

Melania being the central figure in our narrative, 
it was meet that we should spare no effort which 
might tend to throw that figure into greater relief. 
To this end we have laboured, by tracing the Saint's 
footsteps throughout the varied events of her career, 
from her birth amidst the royal splendour of her 
father's palace to her saintly death close beside the 
ever-living memories of the Passion of her heavenly 
Spouse. No example, it seems to us, is likely to 
prove a more profitable antidote to the spirit of the 
age in which we live than the story of the splendid 
renunciation of this noble lady. 

Roman Society in the Fourth and 
Fifth Centuries. 


THE new life of Saint Melania is a valuable historical 
document. Its special importance. Saint Melania's life 
is simply the perfect realisation of the Gospel ideal. The 
circumstances which influenced that life. The corruption 
of Roman society and its reformation in the fourth century. 
Condition of Christianity under Constantine and his 
successor. The reaction from Paganism. The overthrow 
of Polytheism and the final triumph of Christianity. 
Melania's first impressions. Rome in the fourth and fifth 
centuries. Insurmountable barriers and distinctions of 
caste. The ideal of the Christian ruler according- to the 
Gospel. This ideal not yet attained by the Emperors. 
Absolutism and excessive flattery. Corruption of 
the Court. Depravity of the people. Wretched 
condition of the slaves. Patrician customs. In- 
satiable avarice. Pride and arrogance. Extravagance 
and ostentation. Unbridled sensuality. Prodigality. 
Vices and effeminacy of the army. The Roman 
ideal of happiness. Sad results of this corruption. 
Behaviour of the true Christians. Christianity flourishes in 
the midst of Roman licentiousness. Contributory causes. 
Monastic asceticism. The coming of Saint Athanasius 
awakens religious fervour in Rome. Devotion to the 
Roman martyrs. Pilgrimages to the East. Earnest study 
of the Scriptures. Sojourn of Saint Jerome in Rome, and 
his instructions to the nobility. Saint Marcella's school in 
the Aventine. Systems of Biblical instruction introduced 
into Rome by Saint Jerome. Results, especially with 
regard to the writings of the Holy Doctor Great designs 
of Providence. 

THE fourth century was undoubtedly one of the 
most glorious periods in the history of Christian 


Rome. It was a century of social resurrection. 
A vigorous Christianity had ingrafted itself upon 
the old root of the crumbling Roman Empire, 
and from this germ a new era of civilisation was 
springing forth. The life of Saint Melania, 
which has recently for the first time been given to 
the world in its entirety, contributes a golden 
page to the ecclesiastical history of those days of 
the Church's triumph. The learned De Rossi, 
who was only acquainted with a portion of it, and 
that a very incorrect portion, does not hesitate to 
describe it as a "precious historical document." 
May we be permitted also to call it a gem of 
purest water, flashing from the august brow 
of Christian Rome with the light of Gospel 

What lends special importance to the discovery 
is the light thrown upon the conversion of the 
greater part of the Roman aristocracy to the Faith 
during the fourth century. Up to the present, 
all the knowledge which we possessed of the great 
figures of those noble Roman senators, matrons, 
and maidens, who were in those days illustrious 
examples of Christian virtue and heroism, was 
derived from the allusions, more or less summary 
and incomplete, which are to be found here and 
there in the letters of Saint Jerome. The Saint, 
in his own vivacious style, has merely clothed 
these impressionist outlines in rhetorical language. 


On the other hand, the life of the illustrious 
patrician which has recently been brought to light 
is a complete biography, the only one which has 
survived. Its elaborate details are recorded by 
one who lived for more than thirty-five years 
upon the closest terms of friendship with the 
Saint. These details are given with such sim- 
plicity of style and such clearness of expression 
as must charm the most unobservant reader. 

The life of Saint Melania, extraordinary as it is 
in all its aspects, presents to us the practical and 
uncompromising realisation of the Gospel ideal. 
As we read this life we cannot avoid being filled 
with that amazement which overwhelms us when 
we are brought face to face with incomprehensible 
effects which exceed the limits of their natural and 
apparent cause. But in order to have a more inti- 
mate knowledge of the causes which contributed, 
each one in its own degree, to produce the pheno- 
menon of this admirable woman, we must not study 
merely the gifts of nature and of grace which 
take the first place in the development of man's 
life. It is necessary to go further and to take into 
careful consideration that combination of circum- 
stances and social conditions in which her life 
was passed, for these constituted, so to speak, the 
atmosphere she breathed, an atmosphere which, in 
her case, happily, involved no contamination. 

Melania was of illustrious birth, but her highly 


privileged soul soared beyond any thought of 
earthly creatures. From her very childhood she 
manifested such exalted virtue as caused those 
around her to regard her as an angel in human 
form. Of this we are assured by her biographer, 
who tells us that her soul was wholly angelic, and 
that from her earliest years she was all on fire 
with the love of Christ. But we do not need this 
testimony to be assured of her sanctity. Her life, 
in every stage of its development, affords us ample 
and convincing proof of this. It is impossible 
that such sublimity of thought and such masculine 
heroism of virtue could germinate spontaneously 
from nature in a girl so young and so delicate. 
It is necessary, therefore, to glance, however 
cursorily, at the peculiar circumstances amidst 
which, by the dispensation of Providence, those 
holy and generous impulses had birth and were 
matured by Divine Grace in this noble 
maiden's breast, impulses which were to guide her 
to such an exalted destiny. 

Roman society in the fourth century was already 
in a state of disruption and also of transformation, 
according to the Aristotelian axiom that the 
corruption of one state is the generation of 
another. Whilst, on the one hand, the sun of the 
old Rome of the Consuls and the Caesars had set, 
on the other, the new Rome, regenerated by 
Christianity, was arising in all the radiant beauty 


of youth. Christianity had silently penetrated 
into the very marrow of the ancient city, and 
by a process of infiltration and assimilation had 
absorbed and renewed it, modifying its belief, its 
worship, and its customs. This work of slow and 
persevering transformation made ever- increasing 
progress in the closing years of the fourth century 
and the beginning of the next. During the same 
period, the destruction of the old regime pro- 
gressed in like proportion, shaken as Rome was 
internally < by the corruption of manners, and 
externally by the invasion of the barbarians. 

Thus it was that after Constantine's victory 
over Maxentius, and the promulgation of the edict 
of Milan, the Christian religion emerged from the 
throes of persecution, refreshed and reinvigorated. 
Obeying the law of contradiction, Paganism 
waned to its setting, not, indeed, because the 
recently converted Emperor had, with a stroke of 
his pen, proscribed the ancient worship which was 
so deeply rooted in the lives and social customs of 
the people, but rather from the fact that when the 
profession of Christianity was sanctioned by the 
law, a knowledge of the Gospel became more 
widespread, resulting in the inevitable recognition 
of the divine seal of its origin, its history, and its 
works. On the other hand, Paganism, whilst still 
retaining the character of the official religion, no 
longer satisfied the needs of the soul, and thus 


left a dreary void in hearts naturally sincere. 

But, at the same time, it found supporters in a 
by no means inconsiderable number of the Roman 
aristocracy, who held tenaciously to the old tradi- 
tions, to the honours of the magistracy, and to the 
rich emoluments of the pagan priesthood. Hence 
came the reaction, provoked both by the growing 
influence of Christianity and by the favours so 
lavishly bestowed upon it by Constantine and 
his nephews, a reaction which, allied to the 
neo-platonic philosophy and the study of Greek 
literature, acquired full force under Julian. In the 
time of his successors these reactionary measures 
were sometimes kept in check, and sometimes 
were actively hostile, while again there were 
intervals of comparative peace. But the struggle 
was never wholly given up, nor the hope of 
ultimate victory abandoned. 

The final assault on Christianity took place 
towards the end of the fourth century. It was 
made by the aristocratic party, headed by Quintus 
Aurelius Symmachus and his son-in-law, Nico- 
machus Flavianus, both remarkable for their 
culture and their influence amongst their pagan 
contemporaries. On this occasion, also, their 
efforts resulted in their utter discomfiture. 

In 382, Gratian ordered the altar and statue of 
Liberty, which was regarded as the official symbol 
of the dominant Paganism, to be removed from 


the Senate for good and all. Thus, every link 
with the State having been broken, Paganism was 
reduced to the condition of a mere private cult. 
Henceforward the senators were no longer 
obliged, on entering the Curia, to burn the last 
grains of incense to the dethroned polytheism. 
A series of legislative enactments subsequently 
suppressed the ancient privileges of idolatry. 
The vestals, the priests, the temples, were 
deprived of their rich appanages. The Roman 
patricians, more or less sincere worshippers of 
the false gods, found themselves bereft of the 
hereditary honours and wealth of the priesthood. 
By degrees, they submitted to the growth of 
Christianity, which spread rapidly in family circles 
and throughout the city, and everywhere exer- 
cised a powerful and salutary influence by raising 
the hearts of men to the sublime ideals of the 

The interdict against idolatrous worship, issued 
by Theodosius the Great (391), gave the final 
blow to Paganism. The defeat of the tyrant, 
Eugenius, which followed, involved with it also the 
downfall of the patrician party, who had joined 
the usurper. Thus the Gospel became the only 
law, civil and political, throughout the Empire. 

In the year 403, Saint Jerome wrote: "The 
Capitol, once dazzling with gold, behold it now 
sunk in squalor ; soot and cobwebs cover every 


temple in Rome. The city totters to its founda- 
tions, and crowds of people pass by the ruined 
temples, flocking to the tombs of the martyrs." 

Meanwhile, Christianity was singing her song 
of triumph, and with her faith in Christ the Lord 
rendered stronger and more resolute than ever by 
the long-continued struggle, was entering upon a 
glorious period of her history, when Melania's 
clear and vigorous intellect received its first 
impressions of the Eternal City. The Saint was 
born in 383, and remained in Rome until the year 
408. To such a chosen soul, and one so imbued 
from infancy with Christian ideas, how distressing 
must have been the loathesome state of that society 
in whose bosom she first drew breath ! Nor was 
it only in the inevitable contact with the pagan 
world that this contrast was thus painfully forced 
upon her, but in her daily intercourse with the 
Christian community itself. The methods adopted 
by various emperors, after Constantine, to attract 
the Pagans to the new religion, had resulted in 
sowing the seeds of corruption among the 
Christians as well. Many of the Pagans 
became Christians from motives of worldly 
interest, without any serious call or preparation. 
Hence, whilst externally professing the Christian 
faith, they continued to practise the customs, the 
manners, and the maxims of the Pagans. 

The picture of Rome, drawn with marvellous 


unanimity by contemporary writers, both Christian 
and pagan, of the fourth and fifth centuries, reveals 
the city in an incredible state of senile decay and of 
corruption, yet, at the same time, manifesting an 
arrogance which knew no restraint. The various 
classes of society were separated by insurmount- 
able barriers and distinctions of caste imperial, 
patrician, and plebeian. Never could those in 
these several states conceive themselves bound by 
any common tie. We make no mention of the 
slaves who were relegated to an infinite distance 
from all human society. How different this from 
the Christian idea of universal brotherhood ! 

St. Augustine, in his De Civitate Dei, set before 
the wearer of the imperial diadem in those days, 
the manner in which he should discharge his 
office as a Christian ruler according to the Gospel 
ideal. He must govern with justice ; amidst all 
the honour paid to him and the exaggerated and 
servile adulation by which he was surrounded, he 
must ever remember that he was only man ; he 
should continually repeat to himself that he held 
his power from God, and make it subservient to 
Him in all things ; he must fear, love and 
reverence God, preferring the Kingdom of 
Heaven to that of earth ; he should be slow to 
punish, and only do so from the exigences of the 
public welfare, and not from vindictive motives ; 
he should pardon easily, but at the same time, 


not so as to afford impunity to crime, but rather 
from the hope of the offender's amendment ; he 
should alleviate the sufferings of the condemned 
by clemency and liberal kindness ; he should the 
more strictly curb sensuality that his position 
would afford him greater opportunities for 
indulgence ; he should govern himself, before all 
others, so as to subdue all cupidity. All these 
things he should do, not from vain-glorious 
motives, but from a desire for eternal happiness. 
Moreover, he should not neglect to offer to God 
the sacrifice of humility, of mercy, and of prayer 
for forgiveness of his own sins. What a sublime 
conception of the sovereign ruler according to 
God's own heart ! 

Although the supreme power had passed into 
the hands of Christian princes, yet no radical 
change had taken place therein. The same pagan 
absolutism sat upon the throne surrounded by the 
same adulation as in former days. The emperors 
of the fourth century, although Christians, did not 
renounce the pagan dignity of supreme pontiff 
(summus pontifex), as the prerogative of supreme 
power. Gratian was the first to refuse the 
insignia, but even he retained the title.* Just as in 
the days of Domitian, of Caligula, of Diocletian, 

* See Zosimus, IV. , 36 ; Labastie : Memoire sur le sowverain 
pontificat des empereurs romains, in the Mdmoires de VAcadimie 
des inscriptions, t. xv., p. 100. 


who arrogated to themselves divine rights, so it 
was still said of Constantine that he was a visible 
deity of eternally divine origin, and that his 
rescripts were celestial and worthy of adoration. 
It was affirmed of Valentinian that all his 
published edicts bore the signature of the divinity, 
in other words his own, whilst it was said of 
Gratian that he was Deo proximus humanarum 
rerum dominus, and that he was everywhere 
present, and of Theodosius that he was a visible 
deity who had come from Spain, that he shared 
in the divinity, cum Deo consors, that all people 
adored him, and that the happiness of mankind 
depended on him. To him sailors owed fine 
weather, travellers their safe return, and com- 
batants their success in arms. Symmachus was 
surprised that Valentinian and Gratian did not 
receive greater worship than that paid to the 
gods. Even talent was regarded as a divine 
gift coming from Caesar : 

Non habeo ingenium, Caesar sed jussit habebo 
Non tutum renuisse Deo. 

Such were the exaggerations and the gross 
flatteries wherewith that decrepit and effete society 
fed itself. It was the Church who frequently 
addressed the Caesars thus deified, reminding them 
of the limitations of their power before God and 
in the eyes of the Christians. Hosius, Athanasius, 
Liberius, Eusebius of Vercelli, Lucifer of Cagliari, 


Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, 
each and all addressed the rulers in language such 
as had not been heard for ages, the language of 
truth which opposed to the will of man the Law 
of Divine Justice. 

What shall we say of the Court ? It was com- 
posed of an infinite number of officials of every 
rank and class, who were sunk in all the softness of 
Asiatic luxury. To an elaborate and detailed cere- 
monial they had superadded the manners and insti- 
tutions of the East. It is not, therefore, surprising 
that the court had become a hot bed of corruption, 
where flattery, cupidity, calumny and intrigue were 
often the means of leading even good rulers into 
excesses of incredible weakness and cruelty. We 
must bear in mind that, in the opinion of contem- 
porary writers, the greater number of the courtiers 
openly countenanced every kind of vice, and that 
their depravity and greed corrupted public morals. 
On the other hand, the Roman people, as if 
wearied of their glorious past, had fallen into the 
languid and ease-loving ways of old age. The 
efforts of the Church to induce men to live as" 
brothers, to alleviate misery, to wipe out the 
disgrace of Paganism, and to preach that any 
reformation of society must be based on humility, 
charity, and self-denial, were often powerless before 
the apathy of those to whom she appealed. 

Thus it was that Rome fostered the depravity 


of the people, and directly maintained the insur- 
mountable barrier between the patricians and the 
plebeians, while, at the same time, the most 
sublime virtues springing from the doctrine of the 
Gospel flourished in her midst. Disorderly crowds 
of slaves and eunuchs, remnants of Oriental 
barbarism, thronged not only the imperial court, 
but also the palaces of the wealthy Romans 
and the streets and market-places of the city. 
Plebeians of the lowest class, who were mostly 
homeless outcasts, habitually spent their days in 
idleness, drink, gambling, begging, and brawling. 
No right was so much prized as that of attending 
the public spectacles at the expense of the State 
or of the patricians, and it was the only right 
which they would never for any consideration 
forego. Therefore, wherever the public shows 
were fewer in number, or there occurred any 
scarcity of food, riots of an alarming character 
infallibly ensued. The Roman prefects never 
suffered so much ill-treatment at the hands of the 
plebeians as during the fourth and fifth centuries, 
when it rarely happened that a prefect passed 
through his term of office without some popular 
disturbance. At the same time the number of 
poor in the city was enormous, and they congre- 
gated chiefly in the Vatican quarter. Such poverty 
is a convincing proof that moral license does not 
conduce to a people's prosperity. 


Meanwhile, the slaves, those outlaws from civil 
life and natural freedom, multiplied apace. 
Whether by reason of the great existing misery 
which drove even freemen into servitude to till 
the ground and to colonise the vast possessions of 
the wealthy, or owing to the invasion of the 
barbarian conquerors, an incredible number of 
these unhappy beings were owned by every great 
family as mere goods and chattels. The resources 
of the vast estates cultivated by these slaves were 
drained to the last degree to enable the owners to 
live in luxury. To such an extent was this carried 
that the slaves would sometimes have died of 
hunger if the merciful hand of the Church had not 
come to their aid. Crowds of human beings 
were daily to be seen in the forum, lying on the 
mats, naked and benumbed with cold, their tear- 
ful, languishing glances imploring the kindness of 
speedy purchase, which would after all only result 
in fresh ill-treatment. Life held nothing for 
them ; they must submit to see their daughters 
torn from them and forced to become the slaves 
of vice, their very lives even were at the mercy 
of their powerful masters. 

Of the nobles and wealthy patricians it may be 
said briefly that their time was wholly devoted 
to pleasure, to the seeking for honours and 
magisterial dignities, the accumulation of riches, 
and the excessive increase of their estates, espe- 


cially in those provinces of which they were 
appointed governors. The maxims of Epictetus, 
which accorded with the fashion of the times, were 
held in supreme estimation. A great number, 
whilst disbelieving in the divinity of their deities, 
were addicted to degrading superstitions. They 
practised magic, studied the occult sciences, 
and were worshippers of Mithras, a cult then 
very much in fashion. The popular thirst for 
amusement was insatiable. Public games, the 
amphitheatre, the circus, spectacles of every 
kind, constituted the daily routine, and were the 
seminaries of every vice. The riotous life of the 
city, wholly devoted to pleasure, stifled all noble 
and honourable sentiment. 

A cold and calculating selfishness took the 
place of honourable friendship, and set a premium 
on intimacy with gamblers and libertines. 
Slander was unrestrained, and the purest and 
most innocent could not escape its venomous 
tongue. Anonymous denunciations were of 
constant occurrence. A law made by Constantine 
in 325 testifies to the enormity of the evil, and 
the impossibility of remedying it. Witchcraft 
was practised secretly by many. The processes 
instituted under Valentinus by Maxentius against 
a number of senators and noble matrons for 
suspected witchcraft and other capital crimes are 
famous in history, notwithstanding the cruelty 


employed. There is also the well-known episode 
of the noble youth, Lollius, son of the ex-prefect 
Lampadius, who, whilst still a beardless boy, was 
exiled, and finally put to death by the executioner's 
axe for having merely copied a book on witch- 
craft, codicem noxiarum artium. 

But the really gangrenous ulcer of this Roman 
society so nigh to dissolution was the insatiable 
avarice which pervaded all classes, but which in 
particular was the ruling passion of those who 
held the chief offices of the state. The rapacity 
and venality of high officials obtained such wide- 
spread notoriety, and these vices had become so 
common and familiar at that time as to excite no 
scruple whatever. Usury and tyranny in dealing 
with the poor and helpless were carried to the 
utmost pitch of cruelty. A poor debtor, unable 
to pay his debts, would be forced to sell his 
children, if indeed, starvation had not already 
compelled him to do so. The usurers of that 
time resorted to such inhuman methods as 
impounding corpses and preventing their burial. 
No wonder that such scenes should cause Saint 
Ambrose, that model bishop and magistrate, to 
shed bitter tears. 

Barbarous cruelties were practised by the 
Treasury officials. It was almost impossible to 
satisfy the extortionate demands of the public 
exchequer. Those who were unable to pay the 


taxes were thrown into prison, where they and 
their wives were cruelly scourged, whilst their 
children were sold into slavery. Wherefore 
Orosius could indeed with good reason assert that 
it was by no means unusual to find Romans 
who preferred freedom and poverty amongst 
barbarous nations to the anguish of a life tortured 
by the exactions of Rome. Add to this a certain 
pretentious arrogance, which wrapped the Roman 
patrician round from the cradle to the grave. At 
his birth he received an outlandish string of 
names belonging to remote antiquity, thus re- 
calling the family glories of the past. This 
custom was so universal as to be observed even 
in Christian families. It was carried to such a 
pitch that more than seven surnames were 
assumed, preferably in Greek, for as Ausonius 
tells us, the aping of Greek culture was a favourite 
affectation of the time. " Nam gloriosum 
Graeculus nomen putat quod sermo fucat 
doricus." The great ambition of men of letters 
and of magistrates, even those of mediocre ability, 
was to have statues erected to them as a means 
of immortalising themselves. This was an 
honour lavishly bestowed by the rulers, the senate, 
the cities and municipalities. When they died, 
prolix and bombastic epitaphs were engraven on 
their tombs, commemorating such peerless gifts 
and virtues as would leave the owners of 


these endowments unequalled amongst men. 

Unbridled love of pleasure, luxury, pomp and 
pride : such were the chief factors in the life of 
the Roman patrician. To lead an honest, humble 
life was held to be the mark of either meanness or 
stupidity. Hence the profusion of palaces and 
villas rivalling even imperial magnificence. 
Spacious vestibules adorned with a dazzling 
wealth of gilding, columns of precious marbles, 
pavements in mosaic of the most intricate design, 
gorgeous private basilicas, hippodromes, piazzas, 
fountains, baths, temples : such was the bewil- 
dering sight which met the eyes of the astonished 
stranger, to whom the great houses and villas of 
the patricians presented the appearance of 
miniature towns. The orator Symmachus, who, 
according to Olimpiodorus, had relatively but a 
modest income, possessed three magnificent 
palaces in Rome, as well as fifteen villas to which 
he could betake himself whenever he needed 

The furniture too, deliciarum suppellex, corres- 
ponded with the magnificence of these delightful 
palaces. Gold, silver, ivory, bronzes, marbles, 
and rare stones of every kind, statues, candelabra, 
vases, richly dressed pages, exquisite robes, 
carpets upon which historical figures were repre- 
sented : all that the most refined, luxurious taste 
could conceive was gathered within those walls. 


No material but the costliest silk, brocade, or 
purple cloth heavily embroidered in gold, was 
considered fit for a matron's wear. But it was 
when travelling that the senatorial families sur- 
passed themselves in the splendour of their 
silken garments, and in their gilded chariots and 
gorgeous equipages with the costliest trappings. 
Even the men, forgetting the simplicity of 
ancient times which was satisfied with the woollen 
toga, and unmindful of the prohibition of Titus, 
affected silken garments. The fluttering lacernae, 
the trabea, and the palmatae were all richly 
embroidered with gold. The presses, filled with 
robes of every description, allowed the Roman 
matrons, their owners, to change their dresses 
daily, and afforded ample means for the indulgence 
of inordinate vanity. Even young girls wore 
robes stiff with the richest embroidery, whilst 
their heads were covered with veils of transparent 
texture shimmering with gold, or of the finest 
Egyptian linen with purple and gold lace. Gems 
of dazzling splendour, and golden ornaments, often 
representing the value of whole estates, hung from 
the lacerated ears of matrons and marriageable 
girls, whilst the same costly gems adorned their 
heads, their necks, their arms, even their girdles 
and shoes. 

The feminine passion for the acquisition of rich 
garments and rare jewels amounted almost to a 


mania. Husbands and fathers beggared them- 
selves rather than cause their wives and daughters 
one sigh of ungratified desire.* Under such 
circumstances it was not altogether surprising 
that Ataulfus should offer, with other presents, to 
Placidia, as a wedding gift, fifty beautiful youths, 
each carrying two large vases filled with precious 
stones of priceless value, a small sample of the 
booty which the Goths carried off from the houses 
of the Roman patricians. 

The Roman matrons, in addition to their passion 
for dress, were consumed with the desire to appear 
beautiful. The art of improving nature was their 
unceasing study. They painted and enamelled 
their faces, darkened their eyebrows with black 
antimony, and dyed their hair golden colour. They 
supplemented their own tresses with false hair, the 
whole being adorned with gold and flashing jewels. 
The softest feather beds formed couches too hard 
for them to recline upon. Every day they spent 
long hours at the baths, and were anointed with 
perfumed salves. Their chief occupations consisted 
in the interchange of visits, during which they 
mutually slandered and calumniated one another. 
They appeared in public in gilded litters, and 

* Life ofMelania, ch. 36. When the tomb of the Empress Maria, 
wife of Honorius, in the Vatican, was opened in the sixteenth cen- 
tury, the gold with which her robes were embroidered was found 
to weigh thirty-seven pounds. This will give an idea of the rich- 
ness of the gold embroidery used in those days. 


surrounded with an ostentatious pomp which 
seems almost incredible. An interminable crowd 
of slaves, footmen, valets, and eunuchs formed 
their escort. 

The thermae, or public baths, were the scenes 
of such wild license and debauchery that decency 
forbids us to dwell upon it. Every day a crowd of 
clients and parasites gathered inside the colon- 
nades which surrounded the atrium in the houses 
of the patricians, and here they ingratiated them- 
selves with their patrons by a judicious admixture 
of slander and flattery. The continual and inter- 
minable banquets, which were rather displays of 
wealth and voluptuousness than of elegance and 
good taste, can only be described as orgies. They 
were, indeed, far removed from the casta convivia 
with bellaria et nuces imagined by the genial 
grammarian Macrobius, at which the noblest and 
most cultured men of that time were to recreate 
after learned discussions. To soothe patrician 
ears, music was not wanting at these banquets, 
there being in existence a large number of ancient 
musical instruments, whilst new ones were con- 
stantly invented. A crowd of singers and mimes 
were always in attendance at the palaces of the 
nobles, that they might, by the practice of their 
art, revive and flatter the jaded senses which idle- 
ness and debauchery had dulled. 

Very few of the patricians cared for anything 


requiring serious thought, and, for the most part, 
their libraries were as deserted as the graveyard. 
Men of culture and taste fell into bad repute. 
People avoided them as bores, and accounted their 
presence of evil augury. Adultery, infanticide, and 
divorce were the natural but terrible results of the 
unbridled licentiousness which reigned in patrician 
households. It would have been impossible to 
form an idea of the extreme length to which this 
corruption extended if a law passed in the year 
390 had not lifted a corner of the veil. Not less 
remarkable was the wanton extravagance which 
everywhere prevailed. The patricians were enor- 
mously wealthy. Although the Goths only held 
the city for three days, still during that short time 
enormous riches fell into their hands. This great 
wealth of the Roman aristocracy was chiefly spent 
by them in idle display and sensual indulgence. 
The profuse extravagance indulged in by the 
nobles for the gratification of their vanity and love 
of ostentation amounted almost to insanity. Well 
might St. Augustine declaim against the "gloriosa 
effusionis insania" which was the curse of the age. 
We may take an illustration from the expendi- 
ture which was expected of the great senatorial 
families when any one of their members entered 
upon office as consul, praetor, or quaestor. The vast 
sums which, in the efforts to win popular favour, 
were disbursed upon horses, wild beasts, games, 


pageants, and presents, would hardly be credited. 
When Olibrius was made praetor, Probus, accord- 
ing to the account of Olympiodorus, expended 
the value of 1,200 pounds weight of gold say 
.47,000 Stirling. Symmachus, for his son 
Quintus Fabius Maximus, paid 2,000 pounds of 
gold, or ^78,000 Stirling ; and when a festival, 
lasting seven days, was celebrated by Maximus in 
honour of his son's entry upon office as praetor, it 
cost him the double of this, or something near 
;i 56,000, It was a mad contest of prodigality, 
in which the favour of the people was the prize of 
the highest bidder. 

The contagion of the sensuality and vice within 
the city had naturally spread to the army. Dis- 
cipline was no longer observed ; the soldiers, forget- 
ting that in former days the austerity of the 
Roman army had constituted its strength, amused 
themselves with effeminate songs and diversions. 
They who once were content to find repose on 
the bare ground, now required soft feather beds 
and marble dwellings. They refused to use 
humble vessels of earthenware, and were not 
ashamed to drink from enormous goblets which 
were heavier than their own swords. From the 
time of Gratian the Roman soldiers would no 
longer endure the weight of helmet and cuirass, 
and gave themselves up to drunkenness and orgies 
of every kind. St. Ambrose vividly describes 


the repulsive spectacle of the officers, arrayed in 
resplendent attire of silk and gold, challenging 
one another, amid scenes of inconceivable de- 
bauchery, to prove which could drink the most 
wine, with the result that at the end, all alike lay 
drunk on the ground. It is not surprising that 
such excesses bred insubordination and license, 
and by breaking the bonds of discipline, paved 
the way for the ultimate triumph of the barbarian 

From this state of affairs, we can well under- 
stand with what truth St. Augustine, at the dismal 
sight of the capital of the empire perishing under 
the blows inflicted on the one hand by corruption, 
and on the other by the barbarians, traced with 
his master hand, in these characteristic touches, 
the ideal of happiness to which the Romans of 
his time aspired. It mattered nothing that the 
State was sunk in vice, provided that they were 
surrounded by abundance, that their arms were 
victorious, and peace secure. It was of far 
greater import that each one should amass enor- 
mous riches that he might squander them in the 
pursuit of pleasure. The poor man gave his 
services to the rich for the sake of having plenty 
to eat and a quiet, idle life under powerful patron- 
age. The rich took advantage of the poor man's 
need to surround themselves with courtiers and 
ministers to their pride. The populace bestowed 


their applause, not upon him who considered their 
true welfare, but upon him who most lavishly 
provided them with diversion. There must be 
no severe laws, no restraint on licentiousness. 
The rulers' whole anxiety was centred upon the 
submissive temper of their subjects ; whether 
they were virtuous or vicious mattered nothing. 
The provinces obeyed the governors, not as the 
custodians of public morality, but as rulers over 
all and the purveyors of their pleasures. They 
rendered them unwilling homage, and feared them 
with servile fear. The laws seemed framed only 
for the protection of property, not from any care 
of good morals. The opportunities for de- 
bauchery were brought to the doors of all. 
Gambling, drunkenness, disgraceful and cruel 
diversions were indulged in and openly justified. 
The man for whom these things had no relish 
was regarded as a public enemy. If anyone 
should seek to interfere with this reign of license 
he was to be silenced, to be ostracised, and, if 
necessary, to be made away with. 

Such depravity was inevitably the precursor of 
disaster ; and, indeed, the barbarian Alaric, with 
his army, had already reached the gates of Rome, 
which was plunged into terror at his approach. 
Then paganism, deaf to the voice of the Gospel, 
or even attributing to it the coming of these mis- 
fortunes, appealed to its own divinities for deliver- 


ance, returning to its superstitious lustrations 
and the sacrifices of pagan worship, while at the 
same time the public depravity continued as great 
as ever. The horrors of that time can scarcely 
be described. The proud Goth had stricken the 
city to the dust, giving it up to fire and pillage. 
Rome was deluged with the blood of her citizens, 
whilst her women were outraged and dishonoured. 
Now for the first time in Roman history patricians 
and plebeians were united by the common bond of 
terror, and the strange sight was seen of Chris- 
tians and pagans seeking refuge under the shadow 
of the basilicas of the Apostles, and imploring 
mercy. But scarcely had the fugitives set foot on 
safe and hospitable ground, though the ruins of 
their own city were still smoking with the fires 
not yet completely extinguished, when they de- 
manded the disgraceful diversions of the theatre, 
and plunged into greater dissipations than ever. 
The calamities and the multiplied sufferings of 
the barbarian invasion were of no avail to re- 
generate a society so completely given over to 
corruption. Contemporary writers do not exag- 
gerate in any way when they unanimously declare 
that Roman morals in the fourth century and at 
the beginning of the fifth were not only depraved 
and vicious, but wholly incurable -perditissimi 
mores, colluvies morum pessimorum, labes insana- 
bilium flagitiorum. They are also agreed that 


the barbarian oppressor was the instrument chosen 
by Providence to scourge the pride, the vanity, 
and the depravity of the corrupt capital of the 

It is not surprising, having regard to the depths 
of moral degradation to which ancient Rome had 
sunk, that good Christians should have shunned 
all intercourse with the patrician houses. We 
read of Marcella, the glory of Roman matrons, 
that she generally abstained from visiting at noble 
houses in order that her eyes might not be 
offended with the sight of objects which deserved 
to be trampled under foot. Saint Jerome, in 
general terms, directed patrician Christian maidens 
to avoid the houses of the nobles and to cultivate 
no intimacy with married women. And he also 
expressly desired that they should fly, as from the 
plague, from the company of those virgins and 
widows who, while ostensibly leading devout lives, 
frequented the society of matrons who were devoid 
of all sense of modesty. Thus it was that chosen 
souls who realized that they were created for a 
higher destiny than the gratification of sense were 
disgusted and sickened by the atmosphere of vice 

* Ten years after the devastation of Rome by Alaric, Claudius 
Marius Victor wrote : 

" Nil hostis, nil dira fames, nil denique morbi 
Egferunt ; fuimus qui nunc sumus, bisque periclis 
Tentati nihilo meliores reddimur unquam 
Sub vitiis nullo culparum fine manentes." 

De perversis suae aetatis moribus, v. 30-33. 


which surrounded them. Like prisoners in- 
carcerated in dark and noisome dungeons, they 
longed to get away from Rome that they might 
breathe a purer air. Saint Jerome's powerful voice 
resounded in their ears, calling on his friends to 
go forth from the corruptions of Babylon, as he 
designated the pagan portion of the city. 
They heard the sighs of Melania, who but 
recently returned from Jerusalem, counted every 
moment of her sojourn in the seat of all these 
iniquities and feverishly hastened the time of 
her departure. They heard also the mournful 
accents of Saint Paulinus, who, whilst longing to 
behold once more his friend Rufinus, yet con- 
sidered that he should keep far from him on 
account of his proximity to the same corrupt city. 
And yet we shall only speak truth when we say 
that amidst the universal depravity of this pagan 
Babylon there existed and flourished at the same 
time the Kingdom of God. 

Towards the end of the year 397, St. Jerome 
declared that Rome possessed what the world in 
the past was ignorant of the very flower of 
Christianity. We learn from Saint Augustine 
that at the time of Alaric's invasion (410) the 
number of the Faithful then living in the ancient 
capital of the Empire was very large. Hence St. 
Paulinus of Nola, writing to Severus in the year 
402, declared that the adherents of the daughter 


of Sion in Rome outnumbered those of the 
daughter of Babylon. If we try to understand 
the chief causes which, in the very centre of 
corruption, contributed to foster among the more 
right-thinking of the Roman patricians that fervent 
faith and sanctity of life which distinctively marked 
those times, we shall find that several influences 
were concurrently at work, all leading in the same 
direction. There was first the abhorrence of the 
degraded society in the midst of which they lived, 
with the consequent tendency to segregation, to 
monasticism, and to that life of virginal chastity to 
which so many matrons and young girls devoted 
themselves. Again, we have many conspicuous 
examples of sublime virtue afforded by that state 
of life which were themselves strong incentives to 
emulation. So, too, we must count the devotion 
to the martyrs whose graves, invested with a halo of 
glory, inspired glowing faith and heroic aspirations, 
whilst, finally, something was due to the pilgrimages 
to the holy places, and to the earnest and assiduous 
study of the Sacred Scriptures. From all these 
sources there emanated fiery sparks which 
enkindled in the souls of many patricians the 
glowing flames of Christian piety, and which led 
them in the end to make public profession of a 
higher life. 

After the terrible persecution of Diocletian, and 
during the peace which the Church enjoyed under 


Constantine, monasticism had marvellously de- 
veloped in the East. Numbers of Christians, 
witnesses of the heroism of so many martyrs who 
were tortured and put to death by their cruel 
persecutors, were thereby drawn to lead lives of 
such penitential fervour as approximated to martyr- 
dom. The extraordinary sanctity of these lives 
attracted others to follow their example. Hence 
it was that in the space of sixty or seventy years 
the vast region of Egypt was covered with 
monasteries whose inmates were venerated for 
their exceptional holiness. Mount Nitria con- 
tained five thousand monks ; a great number also 
dwelt in the place named Scete, and the so-called 
Cellia were covered with innumerable cells, the 
abodes of anchorites. A multitude of cenobites, 
who lives were consecrated to solitude, prayer, 
and labour, dwelt in all the countries which 
extended from Memphis to Babylon. Monasteries 
were continually springing up in the vicinity of 
the Nile. The celebrated Serapion was head of 
nearly ten thousand monks, as were also Pacomius 
and Paphnutius in the little island of Sabenna. 
The city of Oxyrhincus in the Thebaid was 
thronged with monks and celibates, who occupied 
the public buildings and the ancient pagan 
temples. When we call to mind the sentiments 
regarding martyrdom which animated all Egypt, 
the repulsive sensuality of life, especially pagan 


life in Alexandria and other cities, the desire of 
many to make reparation by severe penance for 
their sins, as well as the prestige which attached 
to those venerable solitaries, the fame of whose 
supernatural lives and virtues had spread every- 
where, we can easily understand the eagerness 
with which people hastened from all parts to visit 
abodes of peace and sanctity such as had never 
been seen before. Thus it was that during the 
latter end of the fourth century Egypt, beyond all 
other countries, chiefly aroused the admiration of 
Christendom and kept alight the torch of Religion. 
It resembled a huge monastery, with Syria and 
Palestine as offshoots. Meanwhile the fame of 
Eastern monasticism had already spread to the 
West, where it aroused not only admiration but 
also a desire to see those abodes of angelic virtue. 
Saint Jerome, Rufinus, Sylvia of Aquitaine, or, as 
others would have it, the Iberian lady ^Etheria, 
Sulpicius Severus, and many other illustrious 
personages, together with noble Roman matrons, 
such as the elder Melania, Paula, Eustochium, 
and Fabiola, hastened eagerly to visit the homes 
of this new asceticism and to converse with the 
ascetics themselves. 

Towards the middle of the fourth century Saint 
Athanasius, flying from the persecutions of the 
Arians, sought refuge in Rome. There, during 
his sojourn in 341 and the following years, he 


succeeded in inspiring many of the nobility with 
a desire for the ascetic life and the profession of 
virginity. Marcella, who had been left a widow 
in the very flower of her youth, only seven months 
after her marriage, became the most devoted client 
of the illustrious Bishop of Alexandria, venerated 
at that time by the whole Catholic world as the 
strong pillar of orthodoxy. Under such a master 
Marcella soon came to play a leading part in the 
revival of asceticism amongst the Roman patricians. 
Athanasius recounted the story of the wonderful 
life of Antony, then still living, to whose sanctity 
and fame even the great Constantine had paid 
homage. Coming upon such authority, the strange 
history of the Patriarch of Eastern monasticism 
was as a flame which set the more exalted souls 
on fire. The lesson was not lost, and henceforth 
they turned to evangelical perfection as the one 
remedy for the terrible desolation occasioned by 
the corruption of the age. 

A fresh impetus was given later to these initial 
desires by the reading of the no less wonderful and 
edifying life of Saint Martin, Bishop of Tours. 
Souls who longed to soar above the unwholesome 
atmosphere which surrounded them into purer and 
more exalted regions, found themselves power- 
fully urged to the imitation of such models. 
Then it was that the Roman nobility became con- 
spicuous for the resplendent examples of virtue 


amongst its members. At the same time, such 
example, given by personages remarkable for 
birth, wealth, and culture, whilst arousing admira- 
tion in some, excited in others only feelings of 
contempt. These latter, the champions of the age 
and its morals, felt vaguely that such virtue con- 
demned the ostentation and sensuality of their own 
lives, which were spent in the pursuit of honours 
and in wanton indulgence. 

The illustrious senators, Furius Pammachius, 
Pontius Paulinus, Turcius Apronianus, and 
Macarius, the vicar of Rome, were amongst 
the nobles who were converted to a truly ascetic 
life of penance, humility, and charity. Conspicuous 
amongst the matrons of the highest rank were 
Marcella, the elder Melania, Paula, Lea, A vita, 
Blesilla, Paulina, Furia, Fabiola, who, together with 
the fairest flowers of Roman maidenhood, Axella, 
Eustochium, with her niece Paula, Principia, 
Marcellina, Eunomia, Demetrias, and others, 
afforded the most striking contrast between the 
purity and humility of Christian life and the pride 
and corruption of Roman society. Their part 
was that of the mirror, reflecting everywhere a 
brilliant light, which proved a perpetual incentive 
to virtue. 

At the same time, devotion to the martyrs, whose 
tombs extended for three miles round the walls of 
the Eternal City, reached its climax in the second 



half of the fourth century, particularly during the 
pontificate of Damasus, to whom the cultus of the 
martyrs was specially dear. From those sacred 
tombs, enclosed within the walls of magnificent 
basilicas, and adorned with marble, encased in 
gold and silver, perfumed with incense and 
balsams, illumined by the mystic light of tapers 
and lamps, and overshadowed by the symbolic 
mosaics of the sanctuary, there breathed in all the 
fulness of its power the good odour of Christ, 
and there was revealed in all its grandeur 
the heroism which is the fruit of the Gospel. The 
concourse of people at these tombs was enormous, 
especially on the martyrs' anniversaries; and the 
solemnity of the ceremonial at these sacred spots, 
so deeply venerated, was such as to seem a reflec- 
tion of that heavenly glory which surrounded 
their beatified souls. To these holy shrines the 
patricians, with their families, were amongst the 
first to hasten, and here the consuls, themselves 
the representatives of the proudest and most 
exalted worldly dignity, paid homage to the power 
of virtue by the lowering of their fasces. 

Noble Roman matrons mingled with the crowds 
of devout plebeians who kept the nightly vigils 
which preceded the martyrs' festivals. Young 
girls who had resolved to consecrate themselves to 
God, and who hence avoided appearing in public, 
might be seen there pouring forth their souls in 


prayer during the quiet hours, when the throngs 
of pious worshippers had withdrawn. Thus it is 
easy to understand how powerful was the influence 
of the Roman martyrs over the patrician classes, 
and especially over those souls whom Divine 
Grace was already urging to high ordeals or even 
to the pitch of heroism. 

Amongst the other incentives to fervour must be 
reckoned the pilgrimages to the East, which were 
so general in Rome during the latter end of the 
fourth century. Veneration for the Holy Places 
of Palestine was the chief motive of these 
pilgrimages, together with the desire of imprinting 
on the memory a vivid recollection of the Bible 
narrative, and also of visiting those centres of 
sanctity and religious life for which the monas- 
teries of Egypt in particular were celebrated. 
None were so strongly inflamed with this pious 
ardour as the noble matrons of Rome. Hence 
we find the elder Melania, grandmother of our 
Saint, who was left a widow at twenty-two years 
of age, amongst the first to raise the standard of 
the Cross. To the grief of her relatives, and the 
amazement of the whole city, she separated from 
her little son, her only child, and consecrated 
herself to a life of penance and recollection in a 
monastery in Jerusalem. 

Later on, others, equally noble and equally illus- 
trious, followed her example. Saint Paula, the 


widow of Toxotius, accompanied by a young girl, 
Julia Eustochium, explored Palestine and visited 
the monasteries of Egypt. She finally took up her 
abode near the sacred grotto of Bethlehem, where 
she founded monasteries, and where she died. 
Her tomb there was much honoured. Shortly 
after her departure from Rome she had been 
joined by Fabiola, the heiress of Fabius Maximus 
This noble lady, by her public penance for faults 
committed in her youth, was a shining example to 
those Romans who had grown old in vice. She 
led for a considerable time the life of an ascetic 
in Bethlehem, until she was recalled by pressing 
affairs to Rome, which she again edified on her 
return by her humility and her benefactions. 

The last of this noble band was the younger 
Paula, the daughter of Laeta. She also belonged 
to the Julian gens, and going to the East after 
her grandmother's death, she set a rare example 
of virginal purity. The letters which these holy 
women wrote to their friends and relatives, in 
which they vividly described the peace and happi- 
ness of their life, and the odour of sanctity which 
breathed from all around them, were so many 
incentives to others to follow their example. 
They could not fail to exercise a powerful influence 
upon the higher classes of Roman society. 

The earnest study of the Holy Scriptures is 
closely connected with the pilgrimage to Palestine. 


It would be going beyond the limits of our sub- 
ject to discuss the general movement which, in 
the fourth century, led the greatest luminaries of 
the Church to the unceasing study and exposition 
of the sacred books. The East, with its schools 
of Alexandria and Antioch, as well as the West, 
with its principal Doctors, Jerome, Augustine, 
Ambrose, and Hilary, reveal to us how keen was 
the desire in those days to search into the mean- 
ing of the Sacred Scriptures, and what efforts 
were made by the Fathers of the Church to spread 
a knowledge of them amongst the people. Con- 
fining ourselves exclusively to Rome, and in 
particular to the Roman aristocracy, we can assert 
in all truth that such serious study, and such burn- 
ing ardour for Biblical research, was never known as 
during the close of the fourth and the beginning 
of the fifth centuries, especially amongst women 
and girls. This is one of the most marked 
characteristics of the period. At that epoch, 
indeed, there was good reason to condemn the 
corrupt manners and the vain display of the 
Roman aristocracy ; but, at the same time, a large 
portion of Christian Rome continued to preserve 
that robust faith which the Apostle of the Gentiles 
once praised. The Holy Scriptures were regarded 
as the Word of God, which contained the Divine 
oracles, the laws given to man as his safe-conduct 
to eternal happiness. It was the unfailing nourish- 


ment of Christian virtue, the certain guide to per- 
fection, support and comfort in the misfortunes of 
life and amid the dangerous hurricanes of the 
world. As we may notice in the early paintings 
in the Catacombs, the artists drew most of their 
inspiration from the Bible. Scenes from the Old 
and the New Testament were depicted in the 
adornment of the Basilicas. In the sculpture of 
the Sarcophagi the changes were rung upon a 
limited cycle of Biblical themes, and Christian 
poets took their subjects, as the Fathers of the 
Church did their treatises, from the suggestions 
supplied by Holy Scripture. 

But these Biblical studies reached a climax 
when Rome enthusiastically welcomed within its 
walls, and admitted to the rights of citizenship, the 
Dalmatian priest, Jerome, the son of Eusebius. 
He had come to Rome with Paulinus, Bishop of 
Antioch, and Epiphanius of Salamis in the island 
of Cyprus, when important ecclesiastical business 
rendered it necessary for these prelates to confer 
with the Pontiff St. Damasus. Jerome, who then 
began to assist the Pope in his correspondence 
with the Eastern Church, was the guest of the 
noble matron Paula. It was during this time 
that he became more widely known and appre- 
ciated as an eloquent and learned writer, deeply 
versed in the exegesis of the Sacred Scriptures. 
His learning, his piety, and his stern virtue ren- 


dered him in a short time the object of general 
and enthusiastic veneration. His sojourn in 
Rome, although of short duration (382-385), was a 
veritable apostolate, which left a deep and lasting 
impression, more especially upon the patricians. 

From his youth, Jerome had conceived an in- 
tense love for the Sacred Scriptures. As the years 
advanced he made immense progress, and his more 
developed intelligence, his researches, his travels 
in the East, his acquaintance with the dialects, his 
hearing of the best masters, such as Gregory of 
Nazianzum, in Constantinople, and Didymus at 
Alexandria, all these things had contributed to 
make him, beyond any of his contemporaries, a con- 
summate master of Biblical science. Before long 
his acknowledged ability caused him to be regarded 
as the oracle of the Christian faith. Meanwhile he 
was in perpetual request in Rome, not only with the 
Pope and with scholars like Pammachius and the 
venerated Domnio, but also with noble matrons 
and virgins, who longed to receive from him that 
divine instruction which he knew so well how to 
impart with profit and unction. Although his 
humility made him reluctant to do so, Paula, by 
dint of importunity, induced him to give an entire 
course of conferences on the Old and the New 
Testament to herself and her little daughter, 
Eustochium. In course of time, the illustrious 
Marcella, who was regarded as the chief ornament 


of the Roman aristocracy, Romanes urbis inclytum 
decus, formed a regular school of Biblical studies 
in her palace on the Aventine. This became a 
centre of attraction for the flower of the nobility 
who were aspiring to Christian perfection. St. 
Jerome tells us that this devout matron, who was 
filled with faith and gifted with more than ordi- 
nary talent, had an almost incredible ardour for 
the study of the Sacred Scriptures : Divinarum 
Scripturarum ardor erat incredibilis. She was 
already the devoted client of the illustrious Atha- 
nasius when, in 382, she became acquainted with 
Jerome's rare virtue and learning. She succeeded 
by unceasing importunity in obtaining his consent 
to become her guide and master in her chosen 
study. The most distinguished women, both 
girls and matrons, of Rome's aristocracy were 
amongst Marcella's assiduous pupils. Paula, who 
was united to her in the closest bonds of friendship, 
could not be separated from her. Thus her little 
daughter, Eustochium, was trained, in the house on 
the Aventine, to a life of virginity, and there 
learned to relish the sweetness of the Sacred 
Scriptures. This princess, a daughter of the 
most illustrious of senators, lived with Marcella, 
and under her tuition made steady and remark- 
able progress. Marcella's house was the central 
library where everyone could obtain copies pf the 
Bible and the works of the most famous ecclesi- 


astical writers, amongst which those from the pen 
of St. Jerome were specially prized. 

It may be said with truth that Saint Jerome not 
only assisted in the establishment of a school in 
Rome for the instruction of the patricians in the 
Holy Scriptures, but that he also introduced a 
system of Biblical teaching for young girls, for 
youths, and for consecrated virgins and widows. 
He wished that girls should be taught from 
infancy to learn the names of the series of Prophets, 
Patriarchs, and Apostles, and that they should 
also commit the Psalms to memory. To make this 
work attractive to them he advised the giving of 
little prizes. As they grew older he recommended 
a study of the Proverbs of Solomon to help them 
to live wisely, and of Ecclesiastes, that they might 
estimate worldly vanity at its proper value ; then 
the Book of Job, from which they might learn 
lessons of patience in the troubles of life. Finally, 
he would have them pass to the study of the 
Gospels, a study which should henceforth be 
unceasing, and also of the Acts of the Apostles 
and the Epistles. With advancing years and 
increasing understanding they were to set to 
work upon the Pentateuch, the Books of Kings, of 
Paralipomenon, Esdras, and Esther ; and, lastly, 
when there was no risk of misunderstanding the 
mystical and spiritual meaning, the Canticle of 
Canticles. For adults he prescribed, in addition 


to daily and persevering study of the Scriptures, 
the reading of the Commentaries of the Fathers. 

Under St. Jerome's fostering care this move- 
ment developed rapidly and produced marvellous 
results. The great Doctor of the Church himself 
testifies to the profound knowledge of the Bible 
which several of the Roman matrons and young 
girls possessed. His praise might almost seem 
exaggerated if it were not justified by the proofs 
which he gives. Saint Paula was perfectly 
acquainted with the Greek and Latin languages. 
She studied Hebrew with her daughter, in which 
they both made such wonderful progress as to be 
able to speak and write it with facility. Similarly 
Blaesilla, after she had renounced all the vanities 
of the age, following the example of her mother 
and sister, conceived the same desire of learning a 
foreign language. Though this was one peculiarly 
difficult for a Roman, still she realised that it was 
the key to a more intimate knowledge of the Old 
Testament. Her progress in Hebrew was no less 
rapid than that of her relatives. Henceforth she 
also became enamoured of the study of the 
Scriptures. We read that during a long illness, 
which ended in her death, she had a volume either 
of the Gospels or the prophetic writers continually 
in her hands. 

The noble lady, Fabiola, was another student 
whose interest in Holy Scripture aroused the 


enthusiastic admiration of Saint Jerome. Writing 
to Furia, who was a relative of Eustochium, he 
declared that if she could see her cousin Fabiola, 
not only would she be charmed with her beautiful 
soul, but that she would also hear from her 
eloquent lips all the wisdom contained in the Old 
and New Testaments. This was no exaggeration. 
The various difficulties regarding Biblical ques- 
tions which this girl proposed to her master were 
such that he was often unable to answer at once,, 
and was obliged to ask for time to consider them. 
We have here sufficient proof of the serious nature 
of his pupil's studies. But amongst all these noble 
Roman ladies, Paula and Marcella stand forth 
pre-eminent. With regard to the former we know 
from Saint Jerome her extraordinary attraction for 
the spiritual sense of Holy Writ, while, as for the 
latter, the same Saint's letter to Principia, written 
after Marcella's death, shows in what esteem he 
held her. Moreover, in various parts of his works 
he speaks of her with a respect and admiration 
which makes it clear that his farewell tribute was 
no idle compliment. This illustrious woman, so 
superior to the rest of her sex, united to her ardent 
faith and her indifference to all earthly things a 
learning which was far beyond the common. So 
intimate was her knowledge of Scripture, and so 
great the clearness of her intellect, that Saint 
Jerome looked up to her as to a superior, and 


' treated her as a competent critic of his own 

The notable increase at this epoch of Christian 
faith, and the more ardent practice of sublime 
virtue, must undoubtedly be attributed, in large 
measure, to that Roman school in which women 
of the highest social rank played so conspicuous a 
part. The study of the Sacred Scriptures raised 
men's minds to the consideration of the super- 
natural. It introduced them to another kind of 
wisdom, and taught them to despise the things of 
the world and to love those which are of Heaven. 
But this same group of illustrious Roman ladies 
also rendered to the Church another substantial 
service. It is to them we are indebted for the 
veritable library of precious treatises and for the 
numerous commentaries so invaluable for Biblical 
exegesis which Saint Jerome has left behind him 
for the instruction of posterity. It was, indeed, 
the searching questions daily propounded by these 
noble ladies which elicited the greater number of 
the holy Doctor's answers, many of them little 
treatises on the particular points at issue. It was 
their persistent importunities which drew from the 
solitary of Bethlehem, whom the censures of 
rivals and the malevolence of adversaries had dis- 
couraged, the greater part of his commentaries on 
the Holy Scriptures, the revised versions of the 
text, and the translations from Greek into Latin 


of Origen's Homilies on the Gospels. Precious 
documents these last, now that the originals them- 
selves have been altogether lost to us. 

In conclusion, it must not be forgotten that all 
these various causes, which exercised such powerful 
influence upon the social reformation of Rome in 
the fourth and fifth centuries, amidst its deplorable 
moral degradation, were means ordained through- 
out and controlled by the action of Divine Provi- 
dence. It was God's goodness which willed that 
the evils existing in nations should yield to 
remedies, and which appointed to these nations 
the laws under which they must advance. On 
the one hand, we find the mistress of the world 
dragged to destruction, and her gates opened to 
the barbarians by that ambition, pride, and pomp 
which, together with an ever-increasing thirst for 
pleasure and its concomitant boundless cupidity, 
were the results of an enervating naturalism such 
as brutalises man and destroys the most vital and 
ennobling principles of social life ; and, on the 
other hand, we see Christianity with its Divine 
Gospel, the eternal and unchanging rule of every 
moral resurrection and all real progress, inevitably 
provoking a reaction against the raging torrent of 
vice, and, at the same time, laying the foundation 
of a new civilisation which postulates, as its basis, 
an ascendancy of the mind over matter, of the soul 
over the body, of reason over the passions, of law 


over a perverted moral sense, and, consequently, 
incorruptible justice, rightful liberty, and true 

Melania the Patrician Heiress. 

A.D. 383403. 

A KNOWLEDGE of the State of Roman Society helps us to 
understand the life of Saint Melania. The most fortunate 
woman in the world from a worldly point of view. Divine 
Providence appoints to her a different destiny. Her exalted 
descent and birth on the paternal side. Her descent on 
the maternal side. Her father, Valerius Publicola. 
She is brought up in great luxury. Her great 
culture. Her sufferings in her father's house because 
of her desire for a life of virginity. She is forced 
to lead a worldly life and to enter into marriage. Her 
father uses violence to compel her to marry her relative, 
Valerius Pinianus. Excellent qualities of Pinianus. 
Melania adheres to all her resolutions which she had made 
known to her husband. Fresh sufferings. Her spirit of 
penance in the midst of luxury. Vain resistance to the 
designs of Providence. Melania gives birth to two sons, 
who are quickly snatched from her by death. The great 
love of Pinianus for Melania. She makes a vow of chastity 
to obtain her husband's cure. Death of Publicola, who 
asks pardon of his daughter and leaves her full liberty to 
dispose of her property as she wishes. Melania leaves 
Rome and retires to the suburbs, where she lays 
aside her splendid robes, and wears the coarsest 
garments. Family life. Her generous hospitality to 
pilgrims, widows, and priests. The Emperor Honorius 
comes to Rome to inaugurate his VI. Consulate. 
Serena desires to see Melania. Melania's resolution 
to dispose of her wealth for the benefit of the poor 
is opposed by her relatives. She visits Serena to implore 
trie protection of the Empress. Fresh plots devised 
by Pompeianus, prefect of Rome, who is killed by the 
people. Melania's enormous wealth. Her boundless 
charity and unequalled generosity. Her apostolate of 
charity is no obstacle to her recollection of mind and the 
elevation of her soul to God. 


WE have sketched, in the preceding pages, a 
picture of Rome at the decline of the fourth and 
the beginning of the fifth centuries, with its vices 
and its virtues, its good and its evil tendencies. 
We have described, more especially, the con- 
ditions prevailing in patrician houses at the time 
that Melania was born, and amidst which she lived 
for twenty-five years. Unless we keep these 
matters before our minds, we shall not understand 
her life. The unwholesome atmosphere which 
surrounded her from infancy, the distaste with 
which it must have filled her sensitive spirit, the 
contrast presented, on the one hand, by the torrent 
of evil which swept everywhere, engulfing all in 
its muddy waters, and, on the other, by the steady 
and vivifying light of Christianity, a light which 
irresistibly attracted noble hearts, comforting them 
and filling them with hope : all these things 
undoubtedly contributed to shape her heroic 
resolve and led to the wonderful mode of life 
which she voluntarily embraced. Let us also- 
remember that if among her numerous relatives 
there were some who were stumbling-blocks to 
her by their sensual indulgence, there were also not 
a few who were the mirrors of every virtue. The 
example of these latter must have been a strong 
and continuous stimulus urging her to follow in 
their footsteps. Amongst those allied to her by the 
ties of kindred were the elder Melania, Marcella, 


Asella, Avita, Laeta, Pammachius, Paulinus, 
Aproninus. These were the ornaments of the 
Christian aristocracy, the most beautiful flowers in 
the glorious garland which adorned the Roman 
Church in those far-off days. 

Viewing things from the standpoint of the world, 
we must admit that Melania could not have come 
into the world under happier auspices. Happiness 
smiled upon her in her golden cradle. She was 
the idol of many, the envied of all. What more 
could the heart of maiden desire ? Descended of 
an ancient lineage which was the pride even of 
Rome, she could claim in the near past, as 
well as in ages more remote, kindred with the 
wealthiest and most powerful houses. Her paternal 
and maternal relatives, during the whole of that 
century, had held with great distinction the highest 
offices in the State. Melania could even boast of 
imperial blood. An only child, she was the sole 
heiress of her father and paternal grandfather, 
and, at their deaths, enormous estates passed into 
her possession. No other patrician family could 
compete with hers in wealth. Her palace, royal 
in its splendour and magnificence, contained such 
riches that we are told she could not find a pur- 
chaser for it, because, in all Rome, there was no 
one wealthy enough to pay the price demanded.. 

Nature had endowed Melania with the fairest 
gifts of mind and body. In addition to rare 



beauty, she was possessed of a sweet, generous 
disposition, ever inclined to good. Her intellectual 
gifts were cultivated to the highest degree, and 
she profited to the utmost by all the educational 
advantages which were open to her. Beautiful, 
rich, and cultured, this most favoured child seemed 
born for earthly happiness. But Providence had 
designed for her a far different destiny. Instead 
of falling a victim to the corrupt tendencies of 
Roman society, she was to offer herself as a 
voluntary sacrifice of expiation for the decadent 
race which unchecked vice was fast hurrying to its 
doom. The priests, indeed, from the pulpits of 
Christian temples thundered in vain against the 
spread of evil, and even pagan writers used their 
pens against the all-pervading depravity. But the 
role assumed by Melania was the most efficacious 
protest that could be offered against the corruption 
of the ancient city : a protest not indeed made in 
words, but rather with the eloquence of deeds. 
The whole course of her life tended to the purest 
and most perfect fulfilment of the Gospel precepts. 
She was a living reproach to the prevailing errors 
and the mad excesses of the Roman patricians. 
If the extraordinary life of Saint Melania should 
seem to some to present a difficulty, it is in this 
fact that we find the solution of the problem. 

Melania was born at Rome in the year 383. 
Her father, the senator Publicola, was of the illus- 


trious house of the Valerii, whilst her mother was 
of the equally noble Ceionian gens, which, at the 
beginning of the fourth century, became merged 
in the families of the Rum* and Cecina. Her 
paternal grandparents were Valerius Maximus, 
who was very probably the same who filled the 
office of prefect in the year 362, and the elder 
Melania, of the Antonia family, a lady illustrious 
not only by birth, but also by her sanctity. She 
was left a widow at twenty-two years of age, with 
only one child, a son, Publicola, the rest having 
been taken from her by death. She renounced 
the world, and retired to Jerusalem, where she 
devoted herself to a life of prayer and solitude. 

Melania's grandfather on the maternal side was 
the pagan pontifex Albinus, who, although an 
idolator, was a distinguished and very learned 
man. Her grandmother, on the other hand, was 
a fervent Christian, whose salutary influence had 
done much to sanctify that pagan household. In 
point of fact, Melania's mother, Albina, like her 
sister Laeta, was brought up in the faith of Christ, 
and it may well be that Melania, like Laeta's little 
daughter, Paula, in her early childhood lisped her 
prayers to the true God at the old priest's knee. 

Publicola, whom his pious mother had offered 
to God in infancy, received a Christian education. 
He was a man of tender conscience, as we gather 
from his letters to Saint Augustine. He was also 


of gentle disposition and extremely charitable, but, 
like all mankind, he had his faults. A young 
patrician, enormously wealthy, descended from a 
family who had a glorious history in the annals of 
Rome, proud of the name which he bore the 
name of his great ancestor, P. Valerius Publicola, 
first of the Roman Consuls he was not by any 
means proof against the spirit of worldliness. 
There was nothing which he had more at heart 
than to outshine all his colleagues in the senate in 
pomp and luxury. Then, the fact of his being the 
one representative of the principal branch of the 
gens Valeria, and having no male issue to succeed 
him, caused him to place all his hopes for the 
future in his only child, Melania, who was his idol. 
He was, therefore, careful to give her such an 
education as would correspond with his cherished 
ideal. He had no other thought but to form her to 
be the first and most admired matron in Rome. 

Thus it was that from infancy Melania was 
surrounded by her parents with every refine- 
ment of luxury. Nothing could exceed the rich 
elegance of her attire. At the same time, her 
mind and understanding were trained in all that 
culture which, in senatorial families, was the 
highest mark of distinction. We know for a 
certainty that she spoke Greek with as much 
fluency as if it were her native tongue, and she 
wrote with ease and elegance. She possessed a. 


beautiful voice, and there is some reason to suppose 
that she was a trained musician. 

The care with which this young girl was educated 
cannot be better described than in the words of 
her uncle, her mother's brother, Volusianus. He 
was several times prefect of Rome, and was 
sent by Honorius III. as envoy to the court of 
Theodosius II. When he met his beloved niece 
once more in Constantinople, after twenty years of 
separation, he could not restrain his tears at seeing 
her so utterly changed. Turning to his companion, 
he exclaimed, " Oh ! if you could only know with 
what care beyond all others of our house she was 
brought up, and how she was precious as the apple 
of her father's eye. I can compare her to nothing 
but a rosebud or a lily about to blossom, gradually 
unfolding its petals, and growing each day more 

But this great solicitude of her parents, which, 
however affectionate it may have been, was yet 
purely human, was the cause of great torture to 
the innocent girl. Melania was not, like so many 
noble Roman ladies of the time, a convert to 
Christianity. She had never tasted the bitter fruit 
of Roman corruption. She came into the world 
with an instinctive hatred of those infamous cus- 
toms which were the canker then eating out the 
heart of primitive Roman society. Her pure 
angelic soul revolted from the licentious manners 


which held sway around her. From her earliest 
years, the love of God completely filled her heart. 
She herself on her death-bed declared that in early 
childhood she had consecrated herself wholly to 
Christ. Providence, which had implanted these 
desires in the girl's heart, did not permit them to 
remain barren. She had, in the example of many 
of her relatives, a powerful incentive to urge her 
to a life of chastity and self-renunciation. We are 
not alluding to her grandmother, the elder Melania. 
She did not meet her grand-daughter until after 
the latter had become a mother, nor is it to be sup- 
posed that she could influence the child by means of 
letters unknown to her parents, who had destined 
her for life in the world. The strongest power 
for good was probably Marcella, who was truly a 
guardian angel to many other Christian families of 
Rome. Seeing that Marcella manifested such an 
earnest desire that Paula, the daughter of her niece 
Laeta, should be trained to a life of virginity, we 
can hardly doubt that she must have shown the 
same loving anxiety with regard to Melania, who 
was bound to her by the same tie of kindred. 
Nor can we doubt that the latter found in her 
illustrious aunt a powerful protector and consoler. 
What a daily martyrdom it must have been for 
this saintly girl to be obliged to lead the life of 
indulgence and luxurious ease of her father's house, 
with all its attendant pomp and splendour. But a 


worse martyrdom was to come. She had scarcely 
emerged from childhood when her parents began 
to discuss the question of her marriage, and to 
acquaint her with their wishes on that point. The 
reverence and respect which she felt for her 
parents precluded any overt resistance, and they, 
availing themselves of the unbounded authority 
which custom and the Roman law accorded to 
parents, did not hesitate to impose their will upon 
her. The discovery that their daughter's inclina- 
tions were opposed to their designs only caused 
them to assert their authority with more unbend- 
ing firmness. 

This important question of marriage must have 
caused much and serious thought to both parents 
and child. How Melania must have devoted all 
the energy of her mind to the devising of some 
method of escape, whilst her parents were study- 
ing how they could best secure the continuance of 
their ancient line. We learn from her biographer 
that her marriage was carefully planned in family 
council, in order that the name of the Valerii might 
go down to posterity and that their enormous 
possessions might not help to increase the power 
and splendour of another house. In the brief 
notice of Melania which we find in the Menology 
of the Emperor Basil Porphyrogenitus, it is men- 
tioned that, on account of her rare beauty and 
enormous wealth, she was much sought for in 


marriage, but that Publicola, desiring to have a 
relative for his son-in-law, chose one of the sons 
of his cousin, Valerius Severus, who was prefect 
of Rome in 382. Valerius Pinianus was the chosen 
bridegroom, a youth of most attractive qualities, 
who probably was especially acceptable to his 
future father-in-law because he dressed well, made 
a good appearance, and loved the easy life of a 
Roman patrician. He had also the advantage of 
being a Christian. 

We cannot doubt that Melania, on hearing that 
her marriage had been arranged, overcame her 
natural timidity, and, following the example of her 
friend, Cecilia, plainly told her parents of her wish 
to consecrate herself to God. But her pious aspira- 
tions found no favour with those whose thoughts 
and interests were entirely worldly. We have no 
record of the tears and anguish which the shadow 
of that impending wedding must have cost the 
saintly child. We know not if anyone inter- 
ceded on her behalf, nor what steps she took 
to gain her cause, nor with what earnest 
pleading she besought her parents to allow 
her to follow her inclinations. But the resistance 
of a girl of thirteen could not avail much 
against the strong will of a father who had 
determined that through his daughter the family 
name should be perpetuated. All that the history 
of her life tells us is that pressure was used 


to force Melania into a union with Pinianus, and 
that the marriage was really carried out against 
her will.* 

By the merciful arrangement of God, who 
ordained that all these events should have a very 
different result from that planned by human fore- 
sight, Melania found in Pinianus a husband worthy 
of herself. The marriage was celebrated in 397, 
when the bride was not yet fourteen, while the 
bridegroom had just attained his seventeenth year. 
He was an excellent young fellow, good hearted, 
and of irreproachable morals. It says much for 
him that the saintly Bishop of Nola, Paulinus, 
loved him as a son. He would have been a perfect 
Christian but for his excessive desire of outstripping 
all his compeers in elegance and lavish expendi- 
ture. This fault must be attributed to the tendency 
of the age and to his early training in his parents' 
house. He held his wife in the highest esteem, not 
because of her enormous wealth, but on account 
of her rare gifts of mind and body, which gained 
for her a complete ascendancy over him. He 
recognised in her an angelic soul, and his love for 
her was so great that he yielded to her wishes in 
everything rather than cause her the slightest dis- 

From the first day of her married life, Melania 
entered upon a new phase of existence one 

* See Palladius Historia Lausiaca., p. 87. 


filled with moral torture, with struggles, and with 
triumphs. Throughout it all we find her ever 
manifesting such sweetness of disposition, such 
modesty, and such respect for her husband as 
excites our highest admiration. At the same time, 
the constancy and fixity of purpose she displayed 
could only come from strength supernaturally 
bestowed. The Gospel of Christ, which she had 
meditated upon from childhood, had taken so firm 
a hold of her understanding and will that all else 
was as nought to her. She found in the Evan- 
gelical precepts and counsels her rule of life clearly 
marked, and nothing could ever induce her to 
deviate from it. So earnest was she in her love 
of higher things that she offered to place her 
enormous fortune at the disposal of her husband, 
to do as he liked with it, if he would only con- 
sent to let her serve our Lord in a life of virginal 
chastity. Pinianus demurred, but he gave a sort, 
of promise that some time in the. future he might 
accede to her request, and with this she had, per- 
force, to be content. 

It had been settled that the young couple, scarcely 
more than children, should reside with Publicola 
in his palace on the Coelian Hill. This was the 
cause of much suffering to Melania. Her fervour 
daily increased, and with it her horror of a life of 
luxury and sensual ease. Living constantly under 
her father's watchful eye, she was obliged to 


comply with his wishes, and to sustain the honour 
of the family by conforming to all the usages of 
Roman society. She had to dress with all the 
splendour befitting a matron of exalted rank, and 
to make her appearance in public surrounded with 
much state. All this was so repugnant to the 
young wife that it caused her real torture. She 
sought by the most ingenious devices to find an 
outlet for her spirit of penance and expiation. A 
curious and characteristic incident may serve to- 
illustrate this. "When this most blessed lady," we 
are told, "was sent to the bath by her parents, she 
went indeed as she was bidden, but unwillingly 
and under compulsion. So when she entered the 
heated chamber, she only washed her face and 
wiped it just for appearance sake ; then calling to 
her all her hand-maidens, she gave them money 
and besought them not to betray her and disclose 
to her parents the fact that she had not bathed. 
And thus returning from the bath she made pre- 
tence as if she had been bathing. So deeply the 
longing for God had sunk into her soul." 

Again, she spent whole nights kneeling in 
prayer in her private oratory, and wore rough 
hair-cloth beneath her jewelled robes. Being 
detected in these penitential exercises, she was 
sternly forbidden them, and was subjected to re- 
doubled surveillance, a crowd of eunuchs and 
handmaidens being appointed to attend upon her 


continually. The system of espionage was car- 
ried so far that even the privacy of her own 
.apartments was no longer respected. She was 
forbidden to hold any intercourse with notably 
pious people, lest they might encourage her in her 
dislike for the life which she was obliged to lead. 

But of what avail are man's short-sighted plans 
against the eternal designs of God ? All that 
human wisdom and foresight could do had been 
done to ensure that the greatest of Rome's patri- 
cian houses should retain its proud pre-eminence 
and its reputation for lavish display. But it had 
been decreed in the Eternal Counsels that from 
this proud house should shine forth a glorious 
Christian example to serve as a protest against 
the increasing corruption of the world. At all costs 
an heir must be assured for the richest patrimony 
in the capital of the empire. But again Eternal 
Wisdom had decreed that, notwithstanding all 
precautions, an heir should be wanting, and that 
this colossal patrimony should be devoted to feed- 
ing the poor and to the assuaging of human 
misery. Every means was adopted to prevent a 
young girl from following the vocation to which 
God had called her. Nevertheless we shall see 
this girl guided in every step by Divine Provi- 
dence until she is enabled at last, all human 
opposition notwithstanding, to carry out that 
vocation in full accord with her desires. 


Melania's first child proved to be a girl, whom 
the young mother consecrated to God from her 
birth. Now that she had given the longed-for 
heir to her father's name, Melania fondly hoped 
that she would be allowed to follow her inclina- 
tions. But the moment had not yet come. The 
advent of the girl-baby was indeed welcomed, but 
husband and parents hoped that time would yet 
give them the male heir which they coveted. 

Their joy may be imagined when, on the Feast 
of St. Laurence, Melania gave birth to a son. 
The happiness of the house of the Valerit 
seemed indeed to have reached its climax. Alas ! 
it proved but short-lived. All the proud, sweet 
hopes which blossomed around the infant's cradle 
perished as they bloomed, and sorrow took up its 
abode in the splendid halls of the palace on the 
Ccelian Hill. The day after his birth, while the 
baptismal waters yet glistened upon his brow, the 
heir to so much earthly greatness closed his inno- 
cent eyes upon it all for ever. But the bio- 
grapher's account of this incident, as it may be 
read in the Latin version of his story, deserves to 
be reproduced in full. The passage will give an 
idea of the many curious illustrations which St. 
Melania's life affords regarding the religious prac- 
tices of Christian Rome at the end of the fourth 
century : 

" Now it happened that the day was at hand 


for the festival and solemn commemoration of the 
martyr St. Laurence. [This must have been 
August loth of the year 399.] In her great 
ardour of spirit the most blessed damsel was 
eager to go and keep the whole night with watch- 
ings in the basilica of the holy martyr. But this 
her parents would not permit because she was too 
weakly and delicate of body to support this labour 
of watchings. So she fearing her parents, yet 
desiring to find favour with God, remained there 
watching in the oratory of her own house, con- 
tinuing upon her bended knees until morning and 
beseeching God with many tears that He would 
grant the desire of her heart. When the day 
dawned her father sent eunuchs to see how his 
daughter, their mistress, had rested in her chamber. 
They, coming, found her still upon her knees in 
converse with God, praying earnestly unto the 
Lord. Just then she rose to depart, and as she 
looked round she saw them standing there; where- 
upon, in great distress and terror, she began to 
coax them and to promise them money if only 
they would not inform her father of what they 
had seen, but would tell him instead that they had 
found her sleeping in her room.* It was often 
she spent the night like this, and she always tried 
to conceal it. On this occasion she rose at an 

* It is noteworthy that this incident is omitted in the Greek Life. 
It is hard to say which more nearly represents the original. 



early hour, and along with her holy mother went 
to the martyr-church of Blessed Laurence, and 
there, with many tears, prayed to the Lord that 
there might be given to her a stout heart in the 
service of God ; for she greatly longed for a life 
of solitude in the Lord. On her return from the 
martyr-church she was seized with the throes of 
child-birth, and amid agonies of pain she was 
brought even to the point of death. A boy was 
born prematurely, who was baptized that same 
day. The next day his soul passed to God." 

Melania meanwhile lay at the point of death, 
and as the climax of grief and disappointment 
came the death of her little daughter. 

In this moment of supreme trial, Pinianus gave 
convincing proof of his intense love for his bride. 
On learning that grave fears were entertained for 
her life, he ran, half frantic with grief, to the tomb 
of Saint Laurence, and there, with torrents of 
tears, implored the intercession of the illustrious 
martyr who is so dear to the Romans, offering the 
sacrifice of his own life provided that his beloved 
wife might recover. Melania, hearing of this vow 
as she lay upon what seemed her death-bed, sent 
Pinianus word that his prayer would only be 
granted if he gave his consent to her consecrating 
the remainder of her life to God. Her husband 
at once formally and unconditionally gave his 
promise that in future Melania should be free to 


serve God according to the dictates of her heart. 
Henceforth he would be to her only a brother. 
Melania was overwhelmed with joy ; and yet she 
rejoiced not so much at her speedy and entire 
restoration to health, and her deliverance from the 
bondage which was so hateful to her, as at the 
thought that she had won her husband's heart to 
God. The parents, however, embittered as they 
were by the overthrow of all their earthly hopes, 
in no wise changed their attitude towards their 
daughter. They exacted from her the same entire 
compliance with all the habits and customs of 
fashionable Roman life. They forbade as sternly 
as ever the carrying out of her religious intentions, 
To all her tears and prayers, they answered that 
they could not bear the storm of abuse and censure 
which would burst over their heads if they yielded 
to her wishes. 

At last, after seven years of married life, 
Melania's constancy was rewarded, and the suffer- 
ings inflicted on her by her parents came to an 
end. Her father was stricken with mortal illness, 
and knowing that he was about to depart from this 
life, he implored his daughter's forgiveness for his 
hardness. He withdrew all opposition to her holy 
desires, and, moreover, left her full and uncon- 
trolled possession of all his wealth. But the 
biographer's own brief account of these last days 
is worth quoting : " And as the young husband 


and wife," he says, " experienced great pain, seeing 
that, by their parents' violence, they could not 
freely take up the yoke of Christ, they began to 
meditate withdrawing into solitude, abandoning 
the city altogether. But whilst they cherished 
these thoughts in their hearts, as the blessed one 
related to myself, behold there came to them in 
their desolation a sudden odour of Paradise, they 
knew not how, and the darkness of their melancholy 
was changed into ineffable joy. And returning 
thanks to God, they took confidence again to meet 
the assaults of the enemy. 

" Afterwards, with the advance of years, her 
father was seized with his last illness, and being a 
very good Christian, he sent for the blessed ones, 
and said : ' Children, forgive me, that through 
extreme foolishness I have fallen into great sin, 
because, fearing the ridicule of evil tongues, I have 
grieved you by putting obstacles in the way of 
your heavenly vocation ; but, behold, I am now 
going to the Lord, and you, for the future, having 
power over yourselves, gratify your desire accord- 
ing to the Will of God, provided you have stability. 
Only may the Lord God of all things grant me 
His mercy.' These words they heard with great 
gladness. Then, when he had fallen asleep in the 
Lord, taking confidence, they at once went forth 
from the great city of Rome, and in its suburbs, free 
from solicitude they trained themselves in every 



virtue, knowing well that it would be impossible 
for them to render pure worship to God unless 
they kept themselves aloof from all intermeddling 
with the things of this world, according to what 
is written : Hearken, O daughter, and see, and 
incline thy ear : and forget thy people and thy 
father's house" (Ps. xliv., n). 

Melania was now, at last, free to follow the call of 
God. After so many years of suffering and hard 
struggle, she had conquered. Nor was this all. 
Her mother and her husband, finding it impossible 
to shake her resolution, resolved to join her in her 
mode of life. Following in her footsteps, they trod 
the rugged path of perfection, and, like her, became 
the models of every virtue. What marvellous 
power of attraction must this young girl, barely 
twenty years of age, have possessed to exercise 
such fascination. 

Melania's first step after the death of Publicola 
was, as we have just heard, to leave Rome. Social 
depravity had rendered the atmosphere of the city 
stifling and unbearable to her. Hence she quitted 
her splendid palace, and took up her abode in one 
of her villas in the neighbourhood. She thus 
marked her reprobation of the sensual life which 
degenerate Romans were leading within the walls 
of the city, drawing down upon themselves the 
Divine vengeance of which the sword of Alaric 
the Goth and the burning brands of !:is barbarian 


hordes were five years afterwards to be the 

Melania's removal from Rome took place in the 
spring of the year 404. Her dislike to rich apparel, 
which had caused her so much suffering during 
her father's life, now led her to put away her silken 
robes, her gold ornaments, and everything that 
was rich and costly in her attire. She wore a 
garment of coarse wool of the cheapest kind, and 
fashioned rather to hide and disfigure her beautiful 
form. Pinianus could not at first be induced to 
adopt such a mode of dress, and he clung to rich 
clothes of Cilician cloth. Melania, however, very 
soon won him sweetly and lovingly to accept rough 
woollen garments like her own, and afterwards she 
herself made his clothes with her own hands, 
fashioning them rudely from undyed wool. From 
henceforth the proud Roman nature was con- 

Now if we consider ever so little the manner 
in which this young girl spent the first months in 
her country house, we shall easily perceive what a 
tremendous change had occurred in the lives of 
that patrician family. How delightful to Melania 
must have been those enchanting days of the lovely 
Roman springtime. She was surrounded by all the 
beauty of awakening Nature. Each day she saw 
develop before her a rich growth of leaf and flower. 
There, in the tranquil silence, broken only by the 


silver rippling of the fountains, the murmur of the 
soft zephyr sighing among the leaves, or by the 
matutinal warblings of the birds, her pure soul 
must have held unceasing communings with God. 
In that quiet retreat she led a life of Christian 
modesty and simplicity which aimed strictly at the 
perfection of the Gospel. 

This home of Christian virtue could not strictly 
be called a monastery. There was nothing about 
it to justify the name. It was simply the abode 
of a large family, all the members of which were 
actuated with the one desire to live recollected in 
God, and to attain Christian perfection. We 
might in truth say that they were as angels who 
had come on earth to rebuke, by their spotless 
lives, the wickedness of the neighbouring Babylon. 
They formed such a family as could be found only 
within the Christian fold a family every member 
of which offered perpetual worship with heart and 
tongue to the Creator of the universe, to the 
Redeemer of the human race ; a family who, by 
their humble, penitential lives, made reparation to 
Divine Justice for the pride and sensuality of their 
countrymen, and who, by the shining example of 
holiness, preached continually to those around 
them with an eloquence which does not belong to 

Although Melania had left her native city, she 
could not find it in her heart to forsake that crowd 


of dependents who, like a flock of sheep, were 
always attached to the great houses in Rome, and 
were ever ready to do their patrons' behests. She 
had studied in the Gospel the sublime doctrine of 
universal brotherhood, and in all these dependents 
she recognised the same image of the Creator as 
was impressed upon herself. Hence it was that 
she took with her to her villa a great number of 
poor families and of slaves, whom she henceforth 
treated as brothers and sisters. There, the cruel 
lash never left its livid mark upon those unhappy 
beings or caused their blood to flow when, by mis- 
chance, they had forgotten to bring hot water to 
their mistress at the appointed time. There, the 
charity of Christ held supreme sway, and Melania 
lived with her slaves in community of thought and 
feeling, practising with them every Christian virtue, 
instructing them with tenderness, labouring for 
their moral improvement, and sitting beside them 
at the same table. 

She went still further. Forgetting the great 
lady, she, the first amongst Roman matrons, shared 
with her slaves the daily round of domestic duties. 
What horror, what scandal must such behaviour 
have caused those haughty Roman dames of the 
Capital who were accustomed to regard those who 
waited on them as beings of a lower nature. Here 
undoubtedly we have one of the most precious 
results of Christianity. If it had been possible, 


the Christian religion would have abolished slavery 
as an institution at one stroke, but this could not 
have been done without shaking society to its 
foundations. But to Christianity is due the indis- 
putable merit of having abolished slavery in 

Although prayer and the chanting of the Psalms 
formed the principal occupations of each day, still 
the works of active charity were by no means 
neglected. The villa of the Valerii must have 
been of enormous size, for it was large 
enough to lodge the immense number of people 
whom Melania took with her from Rome, consist- 
ing, as we gather from Palladius, of fifteen eunuchs, 
fifty young girls who were vowed to virginity, 
with other free-born women, slaves, and more 
than thirty families who had followed Pinianus in 
his new mode of life. But in addition to these 
regular inmates, Melania's country house afforded 
hospitality to the pilgrims who repaired to the 
Eternal City. Foremost amongst these, bishops 
and priests were received with every mark of 
honour and respect. History has chronicled the 
hospitality accorded in this villa to the numerous 
deputations of bishops, priests, and monks who 
came to Rome, in the latter end of 404 and the 
beginning of 405, to plead the cause of Saint 
Chrysostom with the Holy Father, Innocent I. 
Amongst these were Palladius, the author of the 


Lausiac History, and Cassian, the Deacon of the 
Church in Constantinople, who is well known for his 
famous Collations. Palladius speaks with lively 
expressions of gratitude of the respectful welcome 
and the generous hospitality with which he was 
entertained during his sojourn, and of the large 
sum of money presented to him on his departure 
in February, 406. 

Whilst dispensing such lavish hospitality, 
and sparing no expense in the entertainment 
of her guests, Melania practised the most rigid 
mortification in her own daily life. When she 
first left Rome, her glowing fervour and love 
of penance urged her to such severe fasts and 
other penitential exercises that her delicate frame, 
fresh from the comparative luxury of her father's 
house, was as yet unable to support the strain, and 
she was obliged to moderate her ardour. Still, she 
soon made so much progress in her endurance of 
austerities of this kind, that it seemed incredible 
in one so delicately nurtured. But Melania's most 
striking characteristic was her love for the poor. 
They were ever foremost in her thoughts, and the 
chief objects of her care and solicitude. Thus it 
was that in order to be able to afford them greater 
assistance in their misery, she determined to dis- 
pose of her vast estates. This determination, as we 
shall see, was the cause of much suffering and trial. 

The unexpected withdrawal from Rome of one 


of the greatest families of fabulous wealth to lead 
a life of mortification in the seclusion of the 
country was no doubt a great encouragement to 
the Church and all pious Christians, who rejoiced 
at this fresh triumph of virtue. Still, amongst the 
Roman aristocracy, steeped in sensuality, it 
awakened surprise and contempt. For the present, 
however, Melania's name, coupled with the fame 
of her heroic action, had spread far and wide, 
and she was everywhere regarded as a woman 
worthy of the greatest admiration. It was at this 
time, that is, towards the end of December, 403, 
the imperial Court came from Ravenna to Rome, 
to be present when Honorius, on the first of 
January, entered upon his seventh consulate. The 
emperor, we learn, was lodged at the palace of the 
Caesars, and Claudianus has painted in glowing 
colours the festivities with which his presence in 
Rome was celebrated. All the great houses played 
a conspicuous and imposing part in these splendid 
demonstrations. Had Publicola been still alive, 
Melania would have held the first rank amongst 
the proud Roman dames at all the entertainments. 
However, there were not wanting those who 
remembered the state and magnificence which 
surrounded the beautiful girl but a few short months 
before, and now, recalling the wondrous change in 
her life, they told the story in the imperial palace. 
As a result the Princess Serena, the adopted sister 


and also the mother-in-law of the Emperor, was 
much impressed, and in fine she expressed a great 
desire to meet a lady of such admirable virtue. 

Serena was, at that time, all-powerful at Court, 
and after the death of her daughter, the Empress 
Maria, she became " Queen " (Regina) both in 
name and in fact. She was a woman of the 
strongest religious feeling. Being brought into 
continual touch with all the bishops who came to 
Rome, since they naturally went to the palace to pay 
their respects to the Emperor, Serena availed her- 
self of this intercourse to request such of the bishops 
as were Melania's guests to induce their hostess 
to pay her a visit. She also asked the same favour 
of several of the Roman ladies who were either 
friends or relatives of the saintly girl. But Melania, 
in her great humility, feared that a visit to the 
palace would result in her being obliged to listen 
to praises of herself, hence several times over, with 
suitable excuses, she gracefully declined the 
invitation. Circumstances, however, at last 
obliged her to seek an audience with the princess 
of her own accord. 

Pinianus had given full consent to Melania's 
project of selling her property for the benefit of 
the poor, and thus fulfilling in its entirety the 
Evangelical counsel. But no sooner was her reso- 
lution made known than the cupidity of many of 
the senators, and particularly of her relatives, was 


aroused. They considered that they had now a 
favourable opportunity to enrich themselves beyond 
all expectation by taking advantage of the sim- 
plicity and inexperience of these young people, 
whom they frankly regarded as lunatics. Amongst 
these, Valerius Severus, the brother of Pinianus, 
distinguished himself for his unprincipled knavery. 
Whilst he craftily disputed with his brother and 
sister-in-law their right to dispose of the family 
estates, he, at the same time, secretly suborned 
their dependents, who were engaged on the farms- 
in the neighbourhood of Rome. Encouraging them 
to mutiny by handsome bribes, he urged them to 
insist that, in the event of the estates being sold, 
they would accept no one as master but himself. 
This unexpected opposition caused the young 
couple great consternation. They feared much 
that the rebellion of the slaves on their Roman 
property might extend to the vast estates which 
they possessed in the various provinces. After long 
and anxious consideration, they came to the con- 
clusion that they had no resource but to appeal 
directly to Honorius, meanwhile imploring the 
good offices of the princess on their behalf. 

One of the most attractive episodes in Melania's. 
life is her visit to the palace of the Caesars in 404, 
which was the result of this determination. The 
young wife, with her husband, appeared before 
Serena, not indeed in the gorgeous robes and 


dazzling jewels in which Court etiquette required 
that a patrician matron should be attired, but in 
the coarsest of woollen garments, and modestly 
veiled. But it will be interesting to reproduce 
the record of this interview as it is set down in 
the pages of Melania's biographer. 

" By reason," says this faithful chronicler, "of 
their dispute with Severus, Melania and her 
husband sought to procure an interview with the 
most pious queen, which duly came to pass, the 
holy bishops interceding in their behalf. And as 
we imagine that it would be of great profit to 
narrate a few things of their meeting, which she 
often recounted to our edification, I shall set them 
down in all truth for the benefit of those who 
may by chance come across this my writing. Now 
it happened that there were many who thought 
that, according to the custom of the Roman 
senators' wives, the Blessed Melania would have 
to uncover her head at the interview, but she 
declared her firm resolution not to make any 
change in her garments, remembering the text, 
' I have put off my garment, how shall I put it on ? ' 
(Cant. v. 3). Neither would she remove the veil 
from her head, out of regard to the Apostle's 
warning that it is unseemly for a woman to pray 
with her head uncovered. 'No,' she said; 'not 
even if it were to cause the loss of everything I 
have will I change my resolution, for it is better 


that I should not transgress a single iota of the 
Scriptures and so act against my conscience in 
the sight of God, not even were I thereby to gain 
the whole world.' For in truth her ordinary 
garments were to her the robe of salvation, and 
she considered all her life as one continuous act of 
prayer. For which reason she would not take off 
her veil, even for a short time, lest she should 
.grieve the Angels, her companions. Having 
taken with her precious ornaments of no little 
value and crystal vases as presents to the pious 
Queen, with other rich trinkets also in the form of 
rings and silver and silken robes as presents for 
the faithful eunuchs and majordomos, she arrived 
at the Palace, and, being announced, they were 
permitted to enter. 

" The pious Queen with great gladness immedi- 
ately went to meet them at the entrance of the 
colonnade, and, seeing the blessed one in those 
poor garments, she was greatly moved, and 
welcoming her, she made her sit down upon her 
own throne of gold. Then she called all her 
attendants of the palace round her, and thus 
began to speak to them : ' Come and behold her 
whom we saw f our years ago at the height of 
worldly grandeur, and whom we now perceive 
grown old in celestial wisdom. Let us learn 
from her how reason, guided by the fear of the 
Lord, is superior to all earthly delights. Behold, 


one who has trampled under foot her delicate 
up-bringing, her abounding wealth, the state of 
her high position, and absolutely everything that 
is pleasant in this world, fearing neither the 
frailty of the flesh nor voluntary poverty, nor any 
other of those things which we hold in horror.. 
She has resolutely curbed human nature itself, 
and given herself up to daily death, affording 
proof to all by these works how woman, in the 
practice of virtue, when resolution is strong, will 
not allow herself to be surpassed by man in 
anything. ' 

"And the servant of God, listening to these 
things, was not puffed up by the praise, but the 
more the Queen exalted her, the more she 
humbled herself, fulfilling the word of the pro- 
phet : All the glory of man is as the grass of 
the field. And the Queen embraced her and 
kissed her brow as she related to those present how 
much the two had suffered in their renunciation: 
of the world, and how they had been grieved by 
the father's persecution, and how they were pre- 
vented from holding any converse whatever with 
holy persons, and from hearing the words of 
salvation regarding the way of God. For the 
devil drove the aforesaid father to such length 
that, although an excellent man, he committed 
great sin under pretext of good. Indeed, it was 
suspected that he wished to take away their 


property and give it to other descendants, by these 
means trying to prevent their heavenly purpose. 
Then once more the Queen, treating them both 
as Saints, spoke of the machinations of Severus, 
the brother of the lord Pinianus, who plotted to 
get all their wealth, which consisted of great and 
vast possessions, safely into his own keeping : 
and how each of their relatives in the senate was 
scheming to lay hands on their property, wishing 
to enrich themselves. And she said to them : 
' If it please you, I will indeed make Severus 
smart for this, so that having acquired wisdom, he 
shall learn not to defraud those who have conse- 
crated their souls to the Lord.' 

" But the saints gave this answer to the Queen : 
' Christ commanded us to suffer injuries without 
bearing malice ; to allow ourselves to be struck 
on the right cheek and to turn the other, and if 
any man would force us one mile, to go with him 
two ; and to him who takes away our coat, to let 
go also our cloak. Wherefore it is not seemly for 
us to render evil for evil, the more so that those 
who try to injure us are our relatives. We have 
confidence in Christ our Lord that by means of 
His divine assistance, and under favour of your 
Majesty's good will, our modest substance will be 
well expended.' 

"When the Queen heard these words, being 
most favourably impressed by them, she at once 


signified to her truly pious and Christian brother, 
the most blessed Emperor Honorius, that he 
should send orders to every province to the effect 
that their possessions should be sold at the 
responsibility of the governors and public ad- 
ministrators, and that likewise they should be 
responsible for the remittance of the price to the 
Blessed Melania and her husband. And the 
Christian Emperor carried this into effect so 
readily and so promptly that, whilst they were still 
closeted with the Queen, the commands were 
given and the executors appointed. The holy 
pair were filled with wonder at the benignity of 
these most pious princes, and magnifying God the 
Saviour for all, they both drew the precious 
ornaments from the crystal vases and offered 
them to their Majesties with the words, ' Take 
from us these trifles as blessings, in the same way 
as Christ took the two farthings from the widow.' 
And she (the Queen), at these words, with a 
sweet smile, thus answered them : ' The Lord 
knows your charity and compassion. Wherefore, 
I regard him who takes any of your goods, saving 
only religious and the poor, as one who steals from 
the altar, and heaps everlasting fire upon his own 
head, because he takes the things which are conse- 
crated to God.' Wherefore the Queen ordered 
the Master of the Palace and two other illustrious 
eunuchs to conduct them back to their house, with 


every respect, swearing by the salvation of her 
most pious brother that neither they nor anyone 
else belonging to the palace should be permitted 
to take from them even so much as a single coin. 
And this escort, who, as it chanced, were good 
Christian servants of their good Christian High- 
nesses, executed with all gladness and alacrity the 
orders which they had received." 

But even the Emperor's intervention did not 
remove all difficulties from their path. The young 
couple had still much opposition and even danger 
to encounter. A part of their estates remained 
still unsold, and their avaricious opponents, taking 
advantage of the critical state of affairs in Rome 
at the latter end of 408, owing to the invasion of 
the Goths, contrived, with the secret co-operation 
of the senate that the remaining estates should 
be adjudged confiscate to the Treasury. They 
were supported in their nefarious design by the 
prefect, Pompeianus, a fanatical worshipper of idols. 
The sentence of confiscation had already been 
drafted, but on the very day when it was to be 
proclaimed by the prefect, the people, rendered 
frantic by scarcity of bread, rose in rebellion, 
seized Pompeianus in his tribunal, and dragging 
him through the streets, finally put him to death 
in the centre of the city. Thus did God make 
manifest His care for the patrimony of the poor. 
Melania and Pinianus, unconscious of the mischief 


plotted against them, had quitted Rome shortly 
before the outbreak of this riot. 

The sale of such enormous estates must in- 
evitably have taken several years to complete. If 
we bear in mind that the smallest of Melania's 
properties yielded an income of almost fabulous 
amount, having regard to the value of money in 
those times so far removed from our own, we can 
properly estimate her heroism in trampling earthly 
goods under foot that she might live up to her 
supernatural ideals. 

It seems certain beyond all doubt that none of 
the wealthiest Roman patricians enjoyed such a 
prodigious fortune. It is also worthy of remark 
that the purchasers of Melania's property, no 
matter how rich or powerful, were quite unable to 
pay the full purchase-money at once. In the 
majority of cases the owners were obliged to 
accept promissory notes. Melania's palace on the 
Ccelian Hill, of which she was anxious from the 
very first to dispose, was so magnificent and con- 
tained such an accumulation of riches that it was 
impossible to find a purchaser for it. It remained 
unsold, and in 410, after it had been pillaged by 
Alaric's barbarian hordes and partly destroyed by 
fire, it was given away for nothing. The other 
properties were scattered everywhere. Vast 
estates belonging to the most illustrious house of 
the Valerii were to be found in Italy, Sicily, 



Africa, Gaul, Spain, Britain, and even in regions 
still more remote. One of these, near Tagaste, 
was of such extent and importance as to number 
amongst the population workers in gold, silver, 
and bronze ; whilst two episcopal sees were in- 
cluded within its circumference, one belonging to 
the Catholic Church, the other to the Donatists. 
We are not, therefore, surprised to learn from the 
Saint's biographer that some of the rooms in her 
house were filled with gold, the dazzling light of 
which, he tells us, resembled that of flames of 

The contrast of such wealth with the misery in 
which the greater number of her fellow-creatures 
were plunged, rendered its possession an intoler- 
able burthen to Melania, whose pure heart was 
enamoured with evangelical poverty. No words 
could express the joy which she experienced in 
the entire renunciation of this wealth. There 
was no province in the East or the West which 
did not experience the beneficial effects of her 
charity. The poor, the sick, pilgrims, those im- 
prisoned for debt, citizens carried off into cap- 
tivity by pirates, rational human beings groaning 
under the yoke of slavery, churches, monasteries : 
all continually received large subsidies from this 
heroine of the Gospel of Christ, whose hand was 
never weary of bestowing charity. It was indeed 
a sublime spectacle to behold her continually 


stretching forth that beneficent hand in aid of 
prisoners and penitents, seeking everywhere the 
sick, the hungry, and everywhere bringing relief 
to all. During the first two years after she left 
Rome she restored to freedom no less than eight 
thousand slaves. Her biographer tells us that to 
enumerate those whom she liberated in the subse- 
quent years would be quite beyond his power. Be 
it noted also that this great apostolate of charity, 
which aimed at healing the gangrenous sores of 
society, was no hindrance to Melania's recollection 
of mind, or to the continual elevation of her soul 
to God. The sweet persuasiveness of her words 
penetrated the hearts of others and conquered all 
opposition. Her example was as a shining light 
in the murky darkness which enveloped ancient 
Rome a light which revealed a mode of life 
hitherto wholly unknown, but not the less sublime 
in its aim, and worthy of all imitation. 

The Great Renunciation. 

A.D. 403 407. 

ST. PAULINUS of Nola. Melania becomes his Guest, 
January, 406. Flight to Sicily. Death of Rufinus. The 
Storm off Lipari. Africa. St. Augustine. Residence at 
Tagaste. Sale of her property. Monastic Apostolate. 
Life of Penance and Charity. 

FOR about four years Melania continued to live 
with the numerous household which she had 
gathered round her in the constant exercise of 
piety. Keeping always at a distance from Rome, 
she sojourned for periods of various duration upon 
those estates still remaining unsold in the Cam- 
pania and in Sicily, and those in the country 
surrounding Rome. It is during these years, at 
the beginning of 406, probably after a short 
sojourn in Sicily, that we find her at Nola, pur- 
suing the same mode of life, as the guest of St. 
Paulinus. We will try to offer a rough sketch of 
the picture which is here set before us. It would, 
indeed, require a more gifted hand to present it 
in all the beauty of its conception, the harmony of 
its tints, and the vividness of its colouring. 

The figure of Paulinus stands out in the first 
place mild, serene, radiating heavenly light,. 


breathing purity, and compelling our love. The 
noble senator, the consul and magistrate, whose 
youth had been passed amid wealth and honours, 
reveals himself to us humble, simple, modest as a 
child. He it was who had unhesitatingly trampled 
on the world, who had been the faithful follower of 
Christ in poverty, in meekness, in charity ; a man 
whose writings were full of unction, models of ele- 
gance, so far as was possible in that decadent age, 
and who was the inspired poet of a pure and holy 
muse. Paulinus and his beloved wife Therasia, 
despising the world, had distributed their wealth 
amongst the poor. Then, going to Barcelona, he 
had been ordained priest, after which he retired 
to a corner of sunny Campania, near the tomb of 
the martyr St. Felix, for whom he had ever 
cherished such tender devotion. His dwelling at 
Nola, which was about a mile from any other 
habitation, was a spring of living water whence 
flowed innumerable blessings. Numberless were 
the works of piety with which he surrounded the 
shrine of the Saint of his predilection. The 
martyr's tomb was enclosed by five sanctuaries, or 
small basilicas, like a splendid jewel in the centre 
of a casket ; whilst guest-houses for pilgrims, 
hospices for the poor, and monasteries for men 
and women presented from afar the appearance of 
a little town which derived its life from the sacred 
ashes which lay in the heart of it. But the great 


works undertaken by Paulinus in 402-403 were 
the crowning glory and ornament of the renovated 
Nola. He restored and improved the ancient 
basilica erected in the martyr's honour. He also 
caused a new church to be built, of great size and 
richly decorated, which was in truth a monument 
of Christian art, with magnificent porticoes and 
fountains, for which a copious supply of water was 
brought from the adjacent Avella. Great crowds 
of pilgrims flocked thither from all parts to im- 
plore the martyr's intercession. 

It was January of the year 406, and peace was 
once more smiling upon Italy after so much 
storm and calamity. The defeat of Rhadagaisus 
and his powerful army had scattered the storm- 
clouds which so long had lowered over Italy. 
Paulinus rejoiced exceedingly that the threatened 
danger had been averted, but he rejoiced still 
more at the circle of most dear and honoured 
guests which that January brought together under 
his roof. It was in truth a goodly company. 
Melania and her husband Pinianus, and her 
mother Albina ; Avita, with her husband Turcius ; 
Aproninus and their two children, Eunomia and 
Asterius ; yEmilius, the Bishop of Beneventum ; 
these, with Paulinus and Therasia, formed a choir 
of elect souls, or, as the poet gracefully expresses 
it, a lyre of ten strings in perfect harmony of 
thought and feeling. Avita was a niece of the 


elder Melania, and a cousin of the deceased 
Publicola. Her husband Aproninus was a noble 
senator, and had been converted from paganism 
to the Christian faith. This perfect Christian 
laid aside his senator's robes for garments of 
rough frieze, and with his family led a life which 
resembled that of the monks in its fervent piety. 
Their daughter Eunomia, a consecrated virgin, 
was second cousin to Melania, who had trained 
her in every virtue, and guided her footsteps in 
the path of perfection. Eunomia's brother, 
Asterius, following his sister's example, had re- 
nounced the glory and wealth of his ancestral 
inheritance, and like another Samuel had dedi- 
cated himself to the service of the Most High. 
Finally, ^Emilius, a scion of the illustrious house 
of that name, and the father of a family, was now 
a distinguished prelate of the Church. We shall 
soon see him called from that happy circle to 
proceed to Constantinople, there, as Papal Legate, 
to plead the cause of the persecuted Chrysostom 
at the Court of Theodosius. Such were the 
guests whom Paulinus had gathered around him. 

The distance of fifteen centuries which sepa- 
rates us from that time hinders us from studying 
very closely the angelical life which was led by 
the band assembled at Nola a life of fraternal 
charity, of golden simplicity, of such serene peace 
as we can scarcely imagine in these unquiet days. 


Miserable garments, poor food, consisting of herbs 
and vegetables from the garden of Paulinus, but 
minds filled with thoughts of God, hearts over- 
flowing with joy, abundance of occupation, prayer 
in common, the study of the Scriptures, and 
manual labour, their conversation ever holy and 
ever cheerful. Let us for a moment, in imagina- 
tion, join that holy company on a calm night in 
the January of the year of which we are speaking. 
A clear and brilliant sky studded with stars 
spreads like the fringe of the mantle of the Most 
High extended over that cenacle of saints. Sud- 
denly the shrill crow of the cock is heard, and the 
two communities file modestly before us, followed 
by the noble guests, who are escorted by Paulinus 
and Therasia. Over the triple entrance to the new 
Basilica, the cross ensanguined with the Precious 
Blood of the Divine Redeemer and crowned with 
a garland of flowers reminds them that by that 
cross they must die to the world, and so carry off 
the crown. Tolle crucem qui vis auferre coronam. 
The doors are opened and reveal the interior of the 
Basilica in all its splendour. The triple apse, 
trichora, lined with marble, and the vault above 
refulgent with mosaics and gold, while in the 
gloom of night mystical light falls on the altar, 
which is covered with the richest cloths. Over 
the altar is raised the symbolic cross, with the 
crown and monogram of Christ wrought in gold 


and rare gems. The sanctuary is lighted by three 
golden lamps, which are hung by chains at each 
corner. Placed against the pillars are many 
coloured waxen tapers, whose perfumed wicks 
diffuse the sweetest fragrance. From the golden 
roof in the nave, suspended by chains of bronze, 
hang numerous lamps of silver and crystal, with 
branches elaborately wrought in the form of 
flowers and fruit ; their tremulous light is reflected 
from the clear surface of the columns and from 
the marble walls on which scenes from the Old 
Testament are reproduced with vivid colouring in 
all the symbolic idealism of Christian art. Through 
the echoing arches now resound the sweet singing 
of the choirs of virgins and youths, in which inter- 
mingle the deeper notes of those saintly patricians 
who have renounced the world with all its pomp 
and luxury. But in that outpouring of praise from 
hearts enamoured of God, Melania's voice soars 
in thrilling sweetness above all the rest. She is 
the mistress and the leader of the psalmody, and 
under her direction, sub principe voce, that chant 
ascends to heaven in strains of such ravishing 
sweetness as to resemble more the outpourings of 
an angelic choir than the song of mortals. 

Paulinus seems rapt in ecstasy ; from time to 
time he glances upwards at the symbolic mosaics 
of the apse, which are his own conception. There 
before him he sees the Hand of the Almighty 


stretched from heaven and scattering the clouds ; 
the holy dove of the Divine Paraclete, and the 
Mystic Lamb surrounded with dazzling light. In 
the centre is the cross of our redemption, sprinkled 
with the Precious Blood of the Divine Victim, 
and grouped around we may recognize the twelve 
Apostles, who are to proclaim the Gospel to the 
world, represented here by twelve doves, together 
with the palm-branch symbolic of their triumph. 
Four streams issuing from a rock beneath repre- 
sent the sources of .Gospel Truth and of grace. 
As the strains of the nocturnal psalmody rise 
sweeter and higher, Paulinus becomes rapt in 
ecstatic prayer. As he gazes with eyes of love at 
the Lamb, that symbolic figure of Christ seems 
to warm into life and to exult with delight at the 
sound of Melania's pure voice and that of her 
pupil Eunomia : 

Eunomiam hinc Melani doctam sub principe voce 
Formantem modulis psalmorum vasa modestis, 
Auscultat gaudens dilecto Christus in agno. 

It would seem that Melania very much wished 
to make a long sojourn at Nola with all her house- 
hold. So much can be inferred from certain 
expressions of Paulinus, from which, moreover, 
we gather that he greatly desired to keep them 
always with him as his guests, sempiternos hospites. 
This was due not only to his pleasant intercourse 
with them and to their edifying life, although 


these afforded him such delight that he said in 
reference to them that they were the joy of 
heaven, gaudia cceli ; but he desired their pre- 
sence also because they were a perennial source 
of benefit to the poor and an example of all 
virtue to the rich. However, it is certain that the 
end of the year 408 found Melania and her family 
once more settled in her Roman country house, 
because it was from there that they set out for 
Sicily, accompanied by Rufinus of Aquileia, who 
was then far advanced in years and very infirm. 
It was during the last months of the year 408 
that the approach of the Goths threatened Rome 
with all the horrors of a siege. Fear of the bar- 
barians, who knew no respect for women, urged 
Melania to retire to some place of safety, together 
with the band of virgins who lived under her roof 
and formed part of her household. 

Rufinus was then an old friend of the family, 
one also who was much loved and esteemed by 
Paulinus. Melania's feelings of friendship for 
him would not allow her to leave him exposed to 
the dangers which threatened Rome and the sur- 
rounding Campagna ; therefore she invited him 
to accompany them. He took with him as aman- 
uenses to aid him in his literary labours a certain 
Donatus and also Ursacius, the brother of Ex- 
superantius, a bishop in Lucania. The party set 
sail for Sicily, probably from Ostia, and went 


from Naples to Nola to take leave of Paulinus. 
Thence they passed to Messina, where they took 
up their residence in the magnificent villa belong- 
ing to Melania on the western shore of the straits, 
opposite Reggio. Here, in this enchanting spot, 
surrounded with scenes of surpassing beauty both 
by sea and land, the band of saintly Christians 
continued their daily routine of prayer and good 
works. They profited much by the learned and 
edifying conversation of Rufinus, who urged them 
to still greater efforts of virtue. Meanwhile 
Melania was occupied in disposing of her remain- 
ing property, the proceeds of which she distri- 
buted, as usual, in alms and other corporal works 
of mercy. 

But after the taking of Rome by Alaric, the 
barbarian invaders marched upon Southern Italy, 
devastating Latium, Campania, and the other 
regions through which they passed. They ad- 
vanced to the very extremity of the Italian 
peninsula, occupying Reggio, which, together 
with its enchanting suburbs, they laid waste with 
fire and sword. As Melania, from the opposite 
shore, beheld these awful scenes, how fervently 
she must have returned thanks to God who had 
saved her from unknown and terrible danger. At 
the same time how her tender heart must have 
grieved for the victims of these awful excesses 
and for the irreparable ruin of her native land. 


Then it was that those who had erstwhile tra- 
duced and insulted Melania, now scourged by the 
fierce Goth and despoiled of the greater part of 
their wealth, were cured of their blind folly, and 
lauded the wisdom of the saintly heroine who had 
in good time saved her patrimony from Alaric 
and disposed of it to far greater advantage. 

Meanwhile Rufinus, bowed beneath the weight 
of years and stricken with an affection of the eyes, 
laid aside his pen and, surrounded with the most 
loving care, calmly and sweetly slept in the Lord. 
During his stay in Sicily this venerable old man, 
almost an octogenarian, completed the translation 
of the Homilies of Origen on the Book of 

We can hardly doubt that it was the still 
present fear of the barbarian invaders which 
drove Melania from Sicily to seek a safer refuge 
in lands still more remote. Africa, separated as 
it was from Europe by the Mediterranean, was at 
that time regarded by the terrified Romans as the 
general asylum of fugitives. Many Roman fami- 
lies had already betaken themselves to Carthage, 
and Melania was persuaded to follow their example. 

A further inducement to do so was offered by the 

> j 

fact that, having already disposed of her posses- 
sions in Italy and Sicily, she now wished to sell 
those which were scattered throughout the 
African provinces. The death of Rufinus ren- 


dered any further delay in the projected departure 
unnecessary ; wherefore, in the month of Decem- 
ber, after two years' sojourn in Messina, she 
embarked for Carthage. Her deep affection for 
Paulinus caused her to desire greatly to see him 
once more before undertaking a journey which 
would for many years, perhaps for ever, deprive 
her of a similar opportunity. She had particular 
reasons which urged her very strongly to pay this 
visit. She wished, in the first place, to console 
Paulinus for all the sufferings which he had 
endured from the barbarians. After the occupa- 
tion of Rome, the Goths invaded Campania, 
pillaged Nola, and even laid sacrilegious 
hands upon the saintly bishop. St. Augustine 
alludes to this in his De civitate Dei (i. 10). 
These events must have taken place shortly 
before the burning of Reggio, and Melania's 
subsequent resolution to pass over into Africa. 
But, above all, Melania desired to congratulate 
Paulinus upon his election by the clergy and 
people to the see of Nola, and to receive from 
him for the first time the episcopal benediction. 
Paulinus was raised to the episcopal dignity 
shortly before the taking of Rome. Accordingly, 
when Melania and her household set sail, it was 
arranged that they should first proceed to Naples, 
whence she would journey by land to Nola. 

The ship had scarcely left the straits when a 


violent storm arose, which placed the lives of the 
travellers in the utmost danger. So great was the 
violence of the tempest that even the sailors were 
filled with fear. They thought they recognized 
in the fierce war of the elements a certain mani- 
festation of Divine wrath, and cried aloud in their 
terror : "It is a judgment of God ! " But here 
assuredly man's dull perceptions were at fault. 
Human foresight was too limited to discern in 
that violent disturbance of nature a merciful dis- 
pensation of Divine Providence, which willed 
that Melania should be the instrument of God's 
loving mercy. This terrible gale thus encoun- 
tered in December on the route to Naples must 
have been a strong scirocco, the Eurus of the 
Latins. To add to the general despair, water for 
drinking purposes ran short. In these trying 
circumstances Melania's serene calm was un- 
disturbed. As if inspired from on high, she 
addressed the sailors, saying that perhaps God 
did not will that they should continue their course 
to Naples ; let them abandon the vessel to the 
guidance of the winds. They had scarcely done 
so when the scirocco drove them rapidly towards 
a small island, probably one of the .^Eolian group, 
and which, if this be so, from the fact of it being 
an episcopal see, could be no other than Lipari. 
As they drew near the island a frightful scene 
was presented to the travellers : the whele island 


resounded with cries and lamentations. A host 
of barbarian pirates had surrounded the place 
and taken captive men, women, and children, for 
whom they brutally demanded ransom, threaten- 
ing in the event of refusal to put their captives to 
the sword and to set fire to the settlement. Scarcely 
had the news spread of the arrival of the vessel 
with Melania, whose fame had reached even this 
remote spot, when the bishop and the chief men 
of the place appeared before her and piteously 
entreated her to save them by paying the sum of 
money demanded as ransom. 

Melania was deeply moved. Her generous 
heart, ever on fire with tender charity, at once 
responded to the appeal. Without the least 
hesitation she gave the required sum, amounting 
to 1,500 pieces of gold, to which she added an 
additional sum for the relief of these unhappy 
people's wants, making in all a weight of specie 
which would be the equivalent of some 12,000 
English sovereigns.* Further, hearing that they 
were suffering from famine, she ordered every- 
thing of the best from the ship's supplies to be 
given to them. But her generosity was not yet 
satisfied. She learned that these cruel miscreants 
had carried off a noble matron whom they re- 
retained as their captive, hidden no one knew 

* Of course, the purchasing" power of this amount of the precious 
metal would be enormously greater than at the present day. 


where. Melania at once offered a ransom of 500 
gold pieces for her release. The money was 
accepted, and the lady was restored to her family. 
We may venture to discern in all this the true 
meaning of the storm which the short-sighted 
sailors in their despair had regarded as a sure 
indication of God's vengeance. 

Melania, inexpressibly happy at having been 
the means by which these people's misery was 
relieved, resumed her journey. She reached 
Carthage without further incident. The great 
house of the Valerii was well known in those 
parts, not only because of their enormous posses- 
sions, but also because of the many members of 
the family who had filled the highest offices in the 
administration. But, more than all, the name was 
known as that of the illustrious woman, the fame 
of whose deeds had spread everywhere, awakening 
in all hearts profound admiration of her heroism. 

We have no more convincing proof of the 
great esteem in which Melania was held than that 
afforded by the action of St. Augustine, the 
greatest man in all Africa, nay, rather, the greatest 
man of his age. Directly he received the news 
of Melania's arrival he wrote a most affectionate 
letter of welcome, and expressed his great regret 
that the imperative duties of his ministry and the 
rigours of the winter season prevented him from 
greeting her in person. 



But all the respect and all the admiration of 
which she was the object never disturbed our 
saint's humility. She shrank from earthly ap- 
plause as she would have shunned her worst 
enemy. Whatever inducements Carthage might 
otherwise have offered as a residence, she was 
aware that the licentiousness introduced by those 
patrician families whom the barbarian invasion 
had driven there made the city a centre of corrup- 
tion. Besides, the noise and bustle of town life 
were distasteful to her. The same objections 
applied to Hippo, although the fact of it being 
the residence of that bishop who was so great a 
luminary of the Church would naturally have 
attracted her to it. But Hippo was a densely- 
populated Roman colony a riotous, noisy city, 
repugnant to all her tastes and inclinations. She 
preferred, therefore, to retire to one of the most 
remote parts of Numidia, and took up her abode 
in Tagaste. Here she could not only live in 
obscure retirement, but at the same time enjoy 
the friendship of the learned and saintly bishop 
Alypius, who was an intimate friend of St. Augus- 
tine. His close intimacy with Paulinus must also 
have rendered his presence very consoling to 
one who loved Paulinus so dearly. 

Once settled in her new home, Melania pro- 
ceeded to dispose of the enormous estates and 
other property which she possessed in pro-consular 


Africa, in Numidia, and in Mauretania. These 
were about the last remnants of that royal inherit- 
ance of which the heiress of the greatest house in 
Rome was despoiling herself in order to assume 
the garb of poverty and to enrol herself among 
the poor and the outcasts of society. The enor- 
mous sums of money which she received were 
quickly dispensed in the furtherance of every 
good work. She looked upon that wealth as an 
intolerable burthen, or, to speak more accurately, 
as representing the sharp thorns of the Gospel 
parable. She assigned a certain proportion of 
this money to the East, the remainder was de- 
voted to the various provinces of Africa. A 
letter of St. Augustine's still remains to us to 
attest that the city of Hippo participated in 
Melania's bounty. In short, the whole of her 
patrimony in Africa was lavishly spent either in 
the relief of those unhappy beings who languished 
in captivity or in the maintenance of monasteries 
and churches. We can form some idea of Me- 
lania's other generous bounties when we read 
what she did for the church in Tagaste, which 
was miserably poor. In her ardent zeal for the 
Divine worship she embellished and adorned the 
sacred edifice, furnishing it with the precious 
vessels in gold and silver, and with altar-cloths 
richly embroidered in gold and thickly sewn with 
pearls. Further, she endowed this church with 


extensive property which included a great portion 
of the town itself. Besides this, she acted with 
similar generosity towards the other churches and 
monasteries in Africa. On the recommendation 
of the principal bishops, St. Augustine, Alypius, 
and Aurelius of Carthage, she assigned to the 
monasteries a settled income, which rendered 
them independent of precarious alms-giving. In 
fact, she seems to have carried out unhesitatingly 
all that was suggested to her by these venerable 
prelates. But the crown of all her good works 
was the foundation of two new monasteries, one 
for men and one for women. These foundations 
were of a special and distinctive character, and 
were the outcome of the highest form of chanty, 
which throws into brilliant relief the influence 
exercised by Christianity in the alleviation of 
slavery. These two large monasteries were 
founded and endowed by Melania for her own 
freedmen and handmaidens. They afforded accom- 
modation for eighty men and 130 women. By 
such delicate expedients were the souls of these 
hitherto despised beings gradually elevated and 
ennobled, not only in the moral and religious 
order, but also in the eyes of the world, which 
now, for the first time, beheld masters and ser- 
vants leading in common a life of perfect equality. 
Such isolated action was far, no doubt, from being 
a final settlement, but it at least heralded the 


dawn of a complete social transformation in the 
ancient Roman world. 

We have now reached a stage in the history of 
our Saint when it becomes necessary to call atten- 
tion to one of the most striking features of her life. 
She was an ardent apostle of monasticism and of 
virginity as they were practised in the first Chris- 
tian centuries. She not only herself professed 
this mode of life, but laboured also to propagate 
it. We may say, without fear of error, that 
Melania, her whole life long, shows herself deeply 
penetrated with the spirit of retirement, of prayer, 
of poverty, of humility, of mortification ; she was 
filled with an ardent love of virginal chastity, and 
felt within her soul an urgent need to infuse her 
spirit into other souls, so as to rescue them from 
the all-pervading corruption of that age. Hence 
it was that she became the foundress of monas- 
teries and the wise instructress of virgins. In 
her loving, gracious manner she exhorts the nuns 
and women of her time never to grow weary of 
repeating, " Life is short ; why, then, degrade our 
bodies, which are the temples of God ? Why 
defile the chastity in which Christ has His dwel- 
ling? He so honoured virginity that when He 
became the world's Redeemer, He chose to be 
born of a virgin." 

These sentiments did not arise in her from any 
littleness or narrowness of soul ; nor from any 


sufferings or disappointments which might have 
disgusted her with the things of the world. She 
occupied such an exalted position in society that 
she might have reigned over it as a queen. It was 
rather her own moral and intellectual virility which 
prompted her, amidst the univeral corruption of 
that age, to seek a mode of life which was more 
consonant with the dignity of man's nature, and 
better fitted to prepare the way for a much-needed 
social reformation. In the asceticism of monastic 
life, modelled as it was on the Gospel, she found 
her ideal realised both in conception and in fact. 
Hence it was that the monastery to her was an 
ark in which safety was to be found from the con- 
tamination of a new sort of deluge of moral evil; a 
kind of earthly Paradise of chosen souls ; a foun- 
tain of pure life from which the soul might drink 
and gain strength to trample on all that was base, 
and to soar ever higher ; in fine, a new gymna- 
sium for spiritual athletes, who, by continual self- 
discipline, might tame reluctant nature, and 
succeed in making the earth a stepping-stone to 
Heaven. Thus her keen vision, rendered clearer 
by Divine light, enabled her to foresee that in 
those peaceful abodes should be trained the militia 
whose work it would be in the inevitable conflict 
with barbarism and the imminent downfall of the 
Roman Empire to transform the barbarian in- 
vaders, to reform society, and to civilize the 
Christian world. 


Mention must be made here, however briefly, 
of an incident which occurred after Melania and 
Pinianus had fixed their abode in Tagaste, an 
incident which still further illustrates the venera- 
tion in which both were held. Accompanied by 
the holy bishop Alypius, Melania and her husband 
went to visit Augustine, at Hippo. Scarcely was 
their arrival known in the city when an extra- 
ordinary enthusiasm was displayed by all classes. 
They went together to the church to assist at the 
Divine Mysteries. The celebrant had reached 
the offertory when there arose a low murmur 
from the people, which gradually swelled into a 
sound like thunder. The whole congregation 
were crying aloud to Augustine to impose his 
hands on Pinianus and ordain him priest of their 
church. Both Augustine and Pinianus resisted, 
but they could not calm the excited populace. 
The tumult grew greater and more terrifying. 
Entreaties were followed by threats, and from 
threats they proceeded to insults, directed specially 
against Alypius, whom they regarded as the prime 
mover in the resistance to their wishes, from his 
desire to keep Pinianus at Tagaste. It was 
feared that the agitators would proceed to actual 
violence, and to allay the general excitement, 
Pinianus was forced to swear that he would 
remain at Hippo, and also that if at any time he 
should decide to enter the priesthood, he would 


be ordained in no other church. Such were the 
terms upon which calm was eventually restored. 

Melania remained in Africa for seven years, 
living amongst the consecrated virgins who were 
once her slaves, but who now and for ever were 
to be treated as her sisters. She practised such 
severe penance that it seems almost incredible 
that a woman of delicate constitution, reared in 
all the luxury and refinement of a patrician house, 
could have endured such a life. Her garments 
were of haircloth, and at night she snatched a few 
brief moments of rest on the hard ground her 
only bed. Her sole diet consisted of herbs or 
vegetables prepared with a little oil or a few drops 
of hydromel. Even this poor fare was only par- 
taken of once a day, and not until evening. By 
degrees she accustomed herself to remain without 
food for still longer periods, until at last she was 
able to forgo all nourishment for a week together, 
from the Sunday to the following Saturday, 
passing the whole of Lent in this most rigorous 
observance of the fast. In the great heats of 
the summer, the only sustenance she allowed her- 
self after prolonged abstinence from food, was a 
few figs. It may be truly said that her prayer 
was continual ; she recited the Divine Office daily 
with her community, to which she added long 
private devotions. Her days were passed in 
strictest silence and recollection each hour being 


fully occupied. A certain portion of every day 
was devoted to manual labour. Melania's own 
principal employment consisted in transcribing 
manuscripts, a task which she performed with the 
greatest ease and accuracy in Greek and Latin, 
writing from the dictation of one of the community, 
whose smallest mistake she instantly corrected. 
The money obtained from these works was spent 
in clothing the poor, whose feet Melania also 
washed. So late as the tenth century, codices 
were in circulation containing works of the Fathers 
of the Church which had been transcribed by the 
hand of Saint Melania. Special hours were also 
assigned to the reading of the Holy Scriptures, 
which she read through from beginning to end 
four times during the year. She also carefully 
studied the treatises of the Fathers, whose works 
she eagerly sought out, and with all of which she 
was well acquainted, as far as it was possible to 
obtain them. To these she added the reading of 
the Lives of the Saints. Two hours were all 
that Melania allowed herself for sleep, at the end 
of which she arose promptly to call her com- 
panions to renewed prayer and labour. With 
such fortitude and constancy, worthy of a martyr, 
did she expiate the licentiousness and sensuality 
of Roman life. Many a time her mother, anxious 
to relieve her daughter's loneliness, sought her 
little cell, only to find her so intent upon the duty 


of the hour, that she could not coax a word from 
her not even a look. We cannot wonder that 
this mother, recalling the mother of the Maccha- 
bees, should declare herself also blessed by a sort 
of martyrdom. Surely if the latter has eternal 
joy in Heaven for having witnessed for one day 
the sufferings of her children, how much greater 
must be the reward of her who suffered the daily 
martyrdom of beholding her delicately-nurtured 
child chastise her body so severely, and refuse to 
allow herself the least respite from continual 
labour and mortification. Hence it was that 
Albina, even amid her tears, offered perpetual 
thanks to God for having bestowed upon her so- 
saintly a daughter. 

There is nothing which illustrates more strikingly 
the impression which Melania's disinterestedness 
and asceticism produced upon her generation than 
the testimony of the historian Palladius in his famous 
chronicle of early Eastern asceticism, best known 
as the Historia Lausiaca. It is especially re- 
markable because this glowing account of Melania's 
great renunciation was penned during her life- 
time, when she was not yet forty years old. 
Palladius had visited her in 405, fifteen years 
before his account was written ; while Bishop 
Lausus, to whom his book was dedicated and 
from whom it derived its name, was her intimate 
friend. The account begins thus : 


"Now inasmuch as I have already promised 
above to relate the history of Melania the 
younger, it is meet that I should discharge my 
obligation, for it is not just that I should consign 
to oblivion a noble lady who, though so very 
young in her years, by reason of her indefatigable 
zeal and knowledge is much wiser than the old 
women, or that I should omit to make manifest by 
word the history of one who though a girl in 
stature is old in the mind of the fear of God." 

We need not dwell again on the story of her 
marriage, and the death of her children, but we 
may pass to the compendious account which is 
given of her renunciation, and the distribution of 
her property. 

"First of all she bestowed all her raiment of silk 
upon the holy altars, which also did Olympias 
the handmaiden of Christ, and the remainder of 
her apparel of silk she cut up and made it suitable 
for the service of the church in other ways. Her 
silver and gold she entrusted to a priest whose 
name was Paul, who was a monk from Dalmatia, 
and she sent it by sea to the countries of the East, 
I mean to Egypt and the Thebaid, to the amount of 
ten thousand darics ; and she sent in this manner 
ten thousand darics to Antioch and to the 
countries which were nigh thereunto, but to 
Palestine she sent fifteen thousand darics. To the 
churches which were within the islands and to 


the people who were in exile she sent ten 
thousand darics ; and to those who were in the 
West, I mean in the churches and in the monas- 
teries there, and in the houses for the reception of 
strangers, and to all those who were in want she 
distributed her gifts with her own hand. And I 
speak as before God when I say that she must 
have given away four times these amounts besides, 
and that by her faithful stewardship she snatched 
away her money from Alaric as from the mouth of 
a lion. Of those who wished to be free among 
her slaves she gave freedom to about 8,000 in 
number, and on the remainder who had no wish 
to have their freedom and who preferred rather 
to remain in the service of her brother she 
bestowed three thousand darics. All the villages 
she had in Spain and in Aquitania and in the 
island of Tarragon and Gaul, she sold, as well as 
those she had in Sicily and in Campania and in 
Africa, and received the proceeds thereof in her 
own hands so that she might give them to the 
monasteries and churches, and all those who were 
-in want. Such was the wisdom of Melania, this 
lover of Christ, and such was the mature and 
divine opinion which she adopted in respect of the 
weighty burden of these riches." 

It is curious that Melania's later biographer 
mentions Britain also among the countries where 
his beloved mistress had property which she dis- 


posed of. This must have been but a year or 
two before the date when the Roman legions were 
withdrawn from this outlying province of the 
empire. But to return to Palladius : 

"Her manner of life [he continues] was thus. 
She herself ate every other day, though at the 
beginning she only ate once in five days,* and the 
young women whom she had converted and who 
lived with her she commanded to partake of food 
every day. And there lives with her also her 
mother Albina, who observes the same rule of life, 
and who distributes her possessions amongst the 
needy after the manner of Melania, and some- 
times they dwell in the plains of Sicily and some- 
times in the plain of Campania, and they have 
with them fifteen men who are eunuchs and a 
proportionate number of virgins who minister as 

" And Pinianus who was once her husband now 
helps in the work of ascetic excellence and is her 
associate, and he dwells with three hundred men 
who are monks and who read the Holy 
Scriptures, and he employs himself in the garden 
and converses with the people. Now these men 
who are with him helped us and relieved us in 
no slight degree, and we were very many in 

* It seems that Melania began by trying to go without food for 
five days at a time. But this was too much for her strength in the 
beginning, though at a later date she did more than this. Palladius 
is here speaking of the year 405. 


number, when we were going on our way to 
Rome, on behalf of the blessed man, John the 
Bishop {i.e., St. John Chrysostom], for they 
received us with the greatest good- will and they 
supplied us with provisions for the way in great 
abundance and they sent us on our road in joy 
and gladness."! 

As for the spirit in which Melania regarded her 
own good works, we cannot do better than, quote 
a little speech of hers recorded for us by her 
faithful disciple and biographer, Gerontius : 

" One day, when certain of the virgins who 
were with her had asked her if perchance in her 
practice of asceticism and virtue she had not been 
tempted by the devil to vain glory, she, to the 
edification of us all, began to speak thus : ' To 
say the truth, I am not, indeed, conscious of any 
good in myself. Nevertheless, if I ever perceived 
that the enemy, on account of my fasting, sug- 
gested thoughts of pride to me I would answer 
him : What great thing is it that I should fast for 
a week when others for forty whole days do not 
taste oil, others do not even allow themselves 
water? So if the enemy suggested to me to be 
proud of my poverty, I, trusting in the Divine 
Power, would strive to confound his malice. How 
many, taken as captives by the barbarians, are 

t The Translation, from the Syriac, The Book of the Paradise of 
Palladius, by Dr. E. Wallis Budge, has here been borrowed with 
a few modifications. 


deprived even of their liberty, and how many 
falling under the wrath of kings are, by the loss 
both of wealth and of life, deprived of everything 
at once ? And how many also find themselves 
poor through the fault of their own parents ; 
others, caught in the snares of thieves and calumni- 
ators, are reduced unexpectedly from riches to 
poverty. It is no great thing, therefore, if we 
should trample on earthly goods for those which 
are everlasting and incorruptible. Then, when 
again I perceived that the Evil One suggested to 
me thoughts of vain glory, because after the many 
robes of silk and fine linen I put on hair-cloth, 
regarding myself -as very wretched I would trans- 
port myself in thought to those who lie on mats in 
the forum naked and benumbed with cold, and in 
this way God would drive the devil from me/ 
And she added that the snares of the devil were 
manifest, but that her greatest difficulties and 
temptations came from her fellow men. 'To me it 
happened mostly in the time of greatest trouble 
that the devil raised up men having the appear- 
ance of Saints, who, observing that I studied to 
fulfil literally the word of God Who says to 
the rich : If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what 
thou hast and give to the poor, and come, follow 
Me (Matt. xix. 21), raised objection and said to 
me : " Certainly it is fitting that some should 
serve the Lord in poverty and in an ascetic life, 


but this should always be in moderation." But I 
considered those who in this world fight for mortal 
princes, how longing for promotion, they confront 
danger even unto death. If therefore those for 
earthly glory, which is as the grass of the field, 
strove so laboriously, how much more should I 
labour in order to acquire greater honour in 
Heaven ? ' " 

Ascetical Life at Jerusalem. 

A.D. 417439. 

ALEXANDRIA. Melania settles in Jerusalem. Conferences 
with Paula and St. Jerome. Visit to Egypt. The Cell on 
the Mount of Olives. Death of Albina and Pinianus. 
Melania and her community of Virgins. Visit to 
Constantinople. Conversion of Volusianus. The 
Empress Eudoxia at Jerusalem. Melania's last days. 

LET us now go back to our narrative in the year 
417. The moment had at last come when Melania 
could leave the soil of Africa, and gratify her 
longing to go to Palestine, whither she was drawn 
by her ardent desire to visit the Holy Places. 
She embarked with Albina and Pinianus at 
Carthage, and two days later found herself at 
Alexandria. Melania, as ever, filled with the 
spirit of lowliness and humility, wished to remain 
unknown, and looked forward to spending a few 
days in the city in the obscurity of some poor 
lodging. But her pious wishes were not to be 
gratified. Her name had become so venerated 
amongst Christians that they everywhere esteemed 
themselves happy to offer her hospitality. Thus 
it was that a surprise awaited Melania in the 
prosperous capital of Lower Egypt. St. Cyril 



was at that time Patriarch of that important see, 
and the greatest and most learned of the Eastern 
bishops. And now this luminary of the Church 
received St. Melania with all possible honour, 
and insisted that during her stay in Alexandria 
she should be his guest. Although we cannot 
form any clear idea of what passed between these 
two great and most gifted souls, so filled with the 
spirit of God, it can hardly be doubted that this 
meeting drew them together in the closest bonds 
of friendship. 

After a brief sojourn at Alexandria, the travel- 
lers proceeded direct to Jerusalem, their final 
destination. Scarcely had they reached their 
journey's end when they hastened to prostrate 
themselves before the spots consecrated by the 
memories of our Redemption, eager to draw from 
thence a deeper love for the poverty and humility 
of the Crucified. Melania had only brought an 
insignificant sum of money with her to Jerusalem, 
but she did not hesitate to distribute this small 
remnant of her vast inheritance amongst the poor 
of the Holy City. In order to conceal her charity, 
and thus avoid the least breath of worldly applause, 
she secretly remitted the money to the deacons 
charged with the care of the poor. Further, she 
wished to have her own name and those of her 
companions inscribed on the list of those poor 
people of Jerusalem who were recipients of the 


Church's charity. She abstained, however, from 
this course, probably from delicacy of conscience, 
not wishing to deprive others of their share of 
alms. In the end she abandoned herself wholly 
to the care of Divine Providence. 

Melania, with her mother, took up her abode in 
a little cell of the common hospice for pilgrims, 
close to the Church of the Resurrection, while 
Pinianus, it seems, was separated from them, the 
men being lodged in a place apart from the 
women. Here, then, in the heart of Jerusalem, 
and flooded with the luminous rays from our 
Lord's Cross and Sepulchre, Melania's soul was 
consumed more and more with the fire of Divine 
Love. Buried in obscurity, and enjoying the 
most complete self-effacement, she found her de- 
light in continual fasting, in unwearied prayer, in 
loving and assiduous study of the Holy Scriptures. 
Her brief rest was taken on the hard ground, 
covered only with little mats of rough hair-cloth. 
When the shadows of evening fell, and the custo- 
dians at the end of the vesper office closed the 
gates of Constantine's Basilica, it was a beautiful 
and touching sight to behold Melania go forth 
alone from her little cell, and prostrate herself 
before the doors of the Sanctuary, there to pass 
the night in prayer and vigil until they were 
opened again at cock-crow in the morning. The 
severe and prolonged fasts, with other austerities, 


brought on an illness during which it was with 
great difficulty that the Saint was prevailed upon 
to accept a pillow upon which to rest her aching 

In Palestine Melania had the happiness of 
meeting her dearly-loved cousin, Paula. Paula, 
who was the daughter of Albina's sister, Laeta, 
lived in a monastery at Bethlehem, of which her 
aunt, Julia Eustochium, was the prioress, having 
succeeded her mother, Saint Paula, in that office. 
These two holy and illustrious women must, 
without doubt, have been constant and assiduous 
in their visits to their saintly relative. It was 
through them, as well as by means of her mother, 
that Melania had the happiness of cultivating such 
filial relations with St. Jerome during the last 
three years of his life. We cannot suppose that 
the venerable old man at Bethlehem was a stranger 
to Melania, or that he hesitated to communicate 
his expositions of the hidden meanings of the 
Inspired Books to so sympathetic a listener. Our 
Saint's biographer relates that notwithstanding 
the strict seclusion in which she lived, she occasion- 
ally received visits from the greatest and most 
distinguished amongst the bishops and Fathers 
of the Church. It is practically certain that 
amongst these Saint Jerome must have held the 
foremost place. Moreover, we can gather from a 
letter written in 418 by the holy Doctor, after the 


death of the virgin Eustochium, to Saint Augus- 
tine and Alypius, how intimate was his friendship 
with Saint Melania. In this letter he makes 
himself the mouthpiece of Melania's affectionate 
greetings conjointly with those of Albina and 
Pinianus, all of whom the holy Doctor calls his 
children. One sentence of Melania's biographer 
vividly describes her reverence for the illustrious 
Father of the Church, and shows with what pro- 
found humility she received his visits. " She 
advanced," he says, "to meet him with her usual 
modest, respectful demeanour, and prostrating her- 
self at his feet, humbly begged his blessing." 

The fame of sanctity which surrounded as with 
an aureole the monasteries of Egypt, and the 
marvellous stories told of these celebrated an- 
chorets by those who had visited them, could not 
fail to make a profound impression on our Saint. 
There awoke within her an ardent desire to behold 
these marvels herself, and to learn fresh methods 
of advancing in the path of perfection. She 
would fain acquire more burning zeal from the 
luminous example of these holy anchorets and 
virgins, and at the same time obtain the benefit of 
their prayers. And, behold, a favourable oppor- 
tunity presented itself, which at the same time 
brought into clearer relief her inexhaustible 
charity and entire detachment from everything 
earthly. The invasion of the barbarians had 


prevented her from selling some remaining estates 
in Spain, especially in the province of Taragona. 
The Suevi, the Huns, and the Vandals, having 
overrun Gaul, crossed the Pyrenees and invaded 
the Iberian peninsula, which they divided amongst 
themselves, and devastated in every possible way. 
Towards the close of the year 410, Ataulfus, with 
his Visigoths, tried to drive them out and to free 
the country from the scourge, but without avail. 
He was succeeded by Wallia,' who began his career 
by restoring Placidia, Ataulfus's widow, who had 
remained a prisoner in his people's hands, to her 
brother Honorius, and in 418 he concluded a 
treaty of peace with the Emperor of the West. 
Order having been restored, Melania was thus 
enabled to send one of the most trusted of her 
freedmen into Spain that he might dispose of 
whatever property remained to her. On receipt 
of the money, Melania resolved to undertake, in 
company with Pinianus, the long-desired pilgrim- 
age to Egypt, the chief end of which was to visit 
the monasteries, and with her own hand distribute 
her offerings amongst the holy inmates. And 
here we have in the Saint's biography a striking 
contrast afforded to us. On the one hand we 
have the charity of Melania who, loving poverty, 
wished to give all and retain nothing ; whilst on 
the other there is presented to us the Gospel 
spirit of those true followers of Christ who refuse 


to accept what is proffered beyond their imme- 
diate need. One of the most delightful incidents 
in the Saint's biography, by reason of its exqui- 
site simplicity, is her encounter with the anchoret 
Hephsestion. It is thus that Gerontius tells the 
story : 

"And seeing that it was always her special 
devotion to be solicitious for the relief of others, 
they came once upon a time, as she herself 
vouchsafed to tell us, to a certain most holy man 
named Hephsestion. And when they had entered 
his cell, our Saint, after they had prayed together, 
began to beg of him that he would vouchsafe to 
accept at their hands a few gold pieces for his 
own use. Whereupon he, starting to his feet, 
began to thrust away from him the proffered 
money, declaring that he had no need of gold for 
any purpose. When, therefore, no persuasions 
could induce him to take it, they asked, as the 
custom is, that he would offer a prayer for them 
before they set out on their journey again. He 
assented, and while he, falling prone upon his 
face, prayed for them to our Lord, our Saint 
peered about to see where she could secretly 
leave the money which he rejected. Nothing 
offered itself for such a purpose, because there 
was no property of any kind in the cell which the 
hermit could call his own, except the mat on 
which he slept, and in the corner a basket with a 


few little loaves and a vessel of salt. This the 
Blessed Melania managed at last to discover, and 
hid in it a few coins. Then, thanking him for his 
prayer, they hastily departed for fear the servant 
of God might find the money and give it back. 
They therefore, having hurried away as fast as 
they could go, the man of God on his side began 
to reflect on the importunity of his visitors in 
pressing him to accept the gift. Whereupon, con- 
ceiving a suspicion and making search, he 
straightway found what had been hidden ; and so 
picking up the money he followed the holy couple 
at the top of his speed. Thus, just as they had 
crossed the river and had reached the further 
shore, he came to the bank, and shouting out, 
said : ' Tell me, I pray, why have you left with 
me in the desert this money which I need not ? ' 
And the holy woman replied : ' Be pleased to 
give it to the poor ; for the Lord has vouchsafed 
to grant my desire.' And he in turn : ' Where 
shall I go, or how am I to find poor people, 
seeing that I never quit the desert? Do you 
rather take it back and give it to others.' And 
so when in no wise she could be persuaded to 
take back what had once been given, and he was 
unable to cross the river, he flung the money 
which he held in his hands into the stream, and 
there it went to the bottom. This indeed was a 
favourite practice of hers, to give secret alms in 


this way to those monks and nuns who would 
receive nothing. She was possessed with an 
eager longing that all whom she saw should 
receive gifts at her hands, for she knew that from 
such deeds of charity her soul reaped no little 

It must have been an edifying sight to behold 
Melania, in company with Pinianus, making the 
tour of Egypt, visiting the monasteries and the 
cells peopled with cenobites, anchorets, and vir- 
gins, and conversing with those most famous for 
sanctity in these places. It is worthy of remark 
that these aged men, consummate masters in 
sanctity, all recognized in Melania a true heroine 
of virtue, gifted with virile understanding. They 
invoked a thousand blessings upon her, and at 
her departure, accompanied her in troops for 
many miles of her way. They would seem to 
have regarded her as a true mother. 

This visit to the monasteries of Egypt must 
have taken place in the autumn, for we find that 
the return journey was made in the midst of all 
the rigours of winter. The travellers suffered 
much discomfort owing to the severity of the 
season. Melania established herself again in 
Jerusalem, greatly fortified in soul by her visit to 
Egypt, and with increased thirst for mortification. 
Before leaving the Holy City she had begged her 
mother to have constructed for her a small rustic 


cell on the summit of Mount Olivet, where she 
could practise a more entire recollection in prayer. 
The sacred mount, so suited for contemplation, 
was already studded with cells and monasteries. 
The good Albina, in accordance with her daughter's 
wishes, had prepared such a refuge as she had 
suggested. Thither Melania retired after the 
Feast of the Epiphany, taking with her one 
companion, and there she remained until Easter 
in the strictest seclusion, doing penance in sack- 
cloth and ashes, observing the most rigid fast, 
and absorbed in prayer. She saw no one except 
her mother and Pinianus, who came on certain 
days, and her cousin Paula, to whom she acted as 
guide in the practice of virtue. 

For fourteen years after her return to Palestine, 
Melania continued to lead this more or less 
solitary life of prayer and penance, and then it 
pleased God to call to Himself the Saint's beloved 
mother, Albina. Melania caused her to be laid to 
rest in the sacred soil of Mount Olivet, and con- 
structed a small oratory, close to her grave and 
not far from the Grotto where our Divine Lord 
used to assemble His Apostles. She then took up 
her permanent abode in the same spot, intending 
never to return to the city. Shut up in this 
obscure retreat, Melania remained near the tomb 
of her beloved mother, in fasting, in prayer and in 
tears. But the zeal which burned within her 


breast knew no diminution, and it urged her once 
more to resume her apostolate for souls. We 
know not from what pious benefactors she re- 
ceived the money with which she built a monastery 
on Mount Olivet, with an adjoining oratory for 
the celebration of the Divine Mysteries. Here 
she gathered about ninety virgins, of whom she 
was the wise, enlightened, and tender instructress. 
It adds much to the value of the new biography of 
the Saint that in it we find preserved some few 
details of the admirable administration by means 
of which she infused her spirit into and maintained 
regular discipline amongst her subjects. Her 
rules were a model of wisdom, of discretion and 
of simplicity, embodying as they did the very 
essence of the ascetic doctrine of the Fathers 
which she had assimilated by constant study. It 
is, in truth, surprising to find with what unex- 
ampled moderation and benignity she, who was so 
harsh to herself, ruled over her community. 
Nothing was wanting to her subjects which was 
necessary or suitable. Contrary to the practice 
of the other monasteries of her time, she was 
careful that the religious over whom she ruled 
should have an abundant supply of fresh water. 
She even went so far as to provide a bath, to- 
procure which she had recourse by letter to a rich 
Roman patrician living at Constantinople, formerly 
prefect of the palace under Arcadius and 


Honorius II. This nobleman granted her re- 
quest, and generously defrayed all expenses. She 
was most indulgent with regard to fasting, not 
only moderating the ardour of the more mortified, 
but also watching carefully over those whose 
delicacy of constitution rendered them unfit for 
severe fasts. To all she permitted a certain 
amount of liberty in the matter according to their 
strength. When the night office was over she 
insisted on each one retiring again to rest, and if 
she perceived that anyone was very much fatigued 
she dispensed her altogether from the vigil. 
Melania's modesty and humility would not allow 
her to assume the office of directress, and although 
elected by the unanimous vote of the community, 
she contrived that another should act as prioress. 
At the same time, she watched over all with 
maternal charity, making herself acquainted with 
each one's wants, and contriving that she should 
find in her cell whatever was necessary to her. All 
this was done in such a manner as to conceal her 
own intervention. It is not surprising, therefore, 
that Melania was the object of universal love and 

As for the training she imparted to those who 
looked to her for guidance in the spiritual life, 
we cannot do better than quote at some length 
the account of her biographer. He says : 

" Although I am quite unable to give any idea 


of the instructions filled with the Spirit of God 
which she continually imparted to her spiritual 
children, nevertheless I will try to say a few 
words about this matter. Her anxiety was always 
to instruct them concerning virtue and spiritual 
works, that they might present the virginity of 
their souls and bodies without stain to Christ, 
their Celestial Spouse. And before everything 
else, she impressed upon them how they should, 
at the night-office, unweariedly watch and warily 
guard against all bad thoughts, not allowing their 
minds to wander, but fixing their attention upon 
the Psalms. Then she would say: 'Consider, sisters, 
how the subjects of earthly and mortal princes wait 
upon them with all fear and attention, and with 
what fear and trembling ought we to fulfil our 
Divine Office in the presence of the tremendous 
Heavenly King. For you should remember that 
neither the angels nor any intelligent and heavenly 
beings whatsoever can worthily praise the Lord, 
Who has no need of, and is above all praise. If, 
therefore, the angelic powers, which so far tran- 
scend our nature, cannot, as we have said, praise 
God worthily for all things, how much more should 
we, useless servants, sing to Him in all fear and 
trembling, lest in place of reward and spiritual 
profit, we merit condemnation for our negligence 
in praising the Lord. Instructed by the Holy 
Scriptures, and directing our gaze upon Christ 


our Lord, we should mutually observe sincere 
charity, for without spiritual charity all religious 
practice of virtue is vain, because all the good 
works which we think we do, the devil may, in 
truth, imitate, but he is completely overcome by 
charity and humility. For example, though we 
may fast, he never eats at all. Though we 
watch, he is absolutely sleepless. Let us, there- 
fore, hate pride, for, by reason of it, he fell from 
Heaven, and by means of it he would drag us 
down below into the abyss with himself. So let 
us fly the vain glory of this world, which is as 
transitory as the grass of the field. Above all, 
let us maintain firmly the holy and orthodox faith, 
for this is the base and foundation of our whole 
life in the Lord ; and let the sanctification of soul 
and body be dear to us, for without this no one 
shall see God.' Then fearing that some of them 
taking pride in their excessive fasting might fall 
from grace, she told them that abstinence was the 
least of all the virtues. ' But,' she said, 'just as a 
bride who is attired with every ornament cannot 
wear black shoes, but must adorn her feet together 
with the rest of her person, so the soul which is 
adorned with every virtue must possess that of 
abstinence also. Hence, it is plain that, if any- 
one while destitute of the other virtues should try 
to attain perfection in abstinence, she would be 
like a bride who left her person unadorned but 


lavished all her care upon her shoes.' She also 
often exhorted them to obey God, speaking thus : 
' Without obedience, even public affairs in the 
world can have no stability, for worldly rulers 
themselves yield to one another, and govern by 
persuasion, and even if we speak of him who 
wears the crown, in affairs of great moment, he 
undertakes nothing until he has first asked the 
advice of the senate. Hence, in the houses of 
secular persons, if you took away the greatest 
good, obedience, you would take away all order, 
and there being no order, all that makes for peace 
would totter. We must, therefore, all practice 
obedience. Obedience consists in this, that you 
do that which displeases you in order to do the 
will of Him who commands, and that you do 
violence to yourself for His sake, who has said : 
The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, 
and only the violent bear it away.' (Matt. xi. 12). 
And she related to them the anecdote of an old man, 
to show the necessity that those who live with 
others should bear everything which may happen 
to them. 'A person,' she said, 'went to a holy 
old man to be instructed by him, and the latter 
said to him : " Canst thou obey me in all things, 
for love of the Lord ? " And he answered the 
father, " Whatsoever thou shalt command me, 
that will I do with all care." " Then," replied the 
old man, " take a whip, and going to such a place, 


beat and belabour the statue there." And he, 
having promptly executed what had been enjoined, 
returned, and the old man said to him, " Perhaps 
the statue which was beaten and struck, remon- 
strated and answered you back ? " And the other 
replied, "No, not a word." "Go, therefore, 
again," said the old man, "beat the statue as be- 
fore, and scold it well at the same time." And 
having done this three times, according to the 
father's orders, and the statue answering nothing 
(as indeed it could not do, being of stone), at last 
the old man said to him, "If thou canst become 
like that statue, which is ill-treated and bears no 
malice, is beaten and offers no resistance, thou 
wilt be able to save thy soul, and may remain with 
me." Therefore, daughters, let us also follow such 
an example, and bear all things bravely injuries, 
insults, contempt that we may inherit the King- 
dom of Heaven.' Meanwhile, with regard to 
continual fasting, she repeated the saying of the 
Apostle, ' Endure not with sadness or of necessity, 
for God lovetk a cheerful giver ' (2 Cor. ix. 7), 
and she left what they should do to the discre- 
tion of each one. However, concerning charity, 
humility, gentleness, and all other virtues, she 
said : ' It is not lawful for anyone to abuse either 
the stomach or other organ of the body, but 
every man is without excuse who does not follow 
the commandments of God. But I advise you to 


fight with longanimity and patience, for it is by 
the narrow gate that the Saints enter Heaven ; the 
labour is, indeed, little, but great and eternal is 
the repose. Bear for a little while, that you may 
acquire the crown of justice. . . . It is not fitting 
that we should rise for the office of the night after 
we have satisfied ourselves with sleep, but we 
must force ourselves, that we may acquire the 
reward of our efforts in the life to come.' And 
when the office was over, she took care that they 
should have a little sleep, that by it they might 
recover from the fatigue of the vigil, and prepare 
their youthful bodies for the tasks of the following 

That the Saint was essentially kind, especially 
to her own religious sisters, is sufficiently shown 
by a saying of hers recorded by her biographer. 
When it happened, every now and again, that 
one of them, having incurred her displeasure by 
some misconduct, afterwards came to ask her 
pardon, Melania would say, "The Lord knows that, 
unworthy as I am, I should not venture to com- 
pare myself with any good woman even of those 
living in the world ; yet I think that the enemy 
himself will not dare to accuse me at the Day of 
Judgment of ever having gone to sleep with 
bitterness in my heart." Yet the Saint could be 
stern on occasion, especially in any matter which 
touched the faith, as the following curious episode, 



which we translate literally from the Latin version 
of the Life, plainly shows : 

*" There was [says the biographer] a certain 
matron of noble family who was sojourning in the 
Holy Places (at Jerusalem), although they said 
that she was a heretic. Still, she communicated 
(i.e., assisted at our liturgy and received com- 
munion) with us, pretending to be a true believer. 
Now it happened that she came to die while 
remaining in these dispositions ; but I, in offering 
the Holy Sacrifice, named her name amongst 
those who had slept. For it was my custom, 
during those dread and solemn moments, not only 
to recite the names of the holy martyrs, that they 
might pray for me to our Lord, but also of sinners 
that had found mercy, that they too might inter- 
cede for me. So it happened that I named the 
matron above mentioned. Whereupon our most 
blessed mistress said to me in a tone of some 
indignation, ' As the Lord liveth, my Father, 

*The liturgical interest of this notice is considerable, for if we may 
trust the biography of Peter the Iberian (written seemingly in Greek 
but preserved to us only in Syriac) Gerontius followed the ancient 
Roman rite when he celebrated the Liturgy for St. Melania. Both 
from this and from another passage later on, it seems clear that the 
canon of the Mass was recited aloud. Moreover we gather that the 
Memento "of those who had slept" was introduced not that they 
might find mercy, but that they might intercede for the celebrant and 
those who took part in the sacrifice. This could hardly have been 
said by anyone who recited the Memento for the Dead in the form 
in which we find it in the Roman canon at present. 

Another interesting liturgical detail preserved for us by the Life of 
St. Melania is the practice of kissing the bishop's hand at the 
moment of receiving Holy Communion. Cardinal Rampolla has 
devoted an interesting appendix to this point, as also to the custom 
of administering the Eucharist at the very moment of death. 


seeing you name such a one, I no longer com- 
municate of your oblation.' And then when 
I pledged her my word that I would never name 
this woman in future, ' For all that,' she said 
again, ' since you have named her once, I do not 
communicate.' " 

One point which undoubtedly contributes to 
inspire confidence in the narrative of the chaplain 
Gerontius, especially when we compare it with 
hagiographical documents of a somewhat later 
date, is the subordinate place allotted to the 
miraculous element. Melania is not brought 
before us as a great worker of miracles during 
her lifetime. None the less, her biographer un- 
doubtedly claimed for his mistress the gift of 
miracles, as the following passage abundantly 

"And here," he declares, "I propose to make 
mention of a few amongst many miracles which 
the Lord worked through her means, for, on 
account of the number, and on account of my 
incapacity, I cannot declare them all. However, 
one day a very malignant devil took possession of 
a certain young woman, and shut her lips so 
tightly that for several days she could neither 
speak nor take nourishment. Thus she seemed 
in imminent danger of starving, many doctors 
having administered much medicine to her with- 
out ever succeeding in enabling her to open her 


lips. When it had in this way been proved that 
the art of medicine was powerless to overcome the 
evil spirit, they finally carried her to the Saint, 
accompanied by her parents. But the Saint, 
refusing praise from men, said : ' In truth, being 
a sinner, I can do nothing ; but let us take her to 
the holy martyrs, and the God of clemency will 
cure her through their certain intercession.' When 
they had arrived at the shrine, the Saint having 
earnestly invoked the Lord of all things, took 
some of the oil which was sanctified by the relics 
of the holy martyrs, and touched the sick woman's 
mouth three times, saying with a loud voice, ' In 
the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, open thy 
mouth.' And immediately, when God was thus 
invoked, the demon, confused and terrified, de- 
parted, and the woman opened her mouth. The 
Saint thereupon gave her food to eat, and all who 
saw it, breaking out into the praise of God, the 
woman who was cured went away with great joy. 
And another woman also who was seized with the 
same malady was healed by the Lord through the 
prayers of the Saint. Again, another woman 
was at the point of death in child-birth, and 
suffered terribly, not being able to give birth to 
the child. As soon as the servant of God heard 
this, she was greatly moved with compassion for 
the woman, and said to the virgins who were with 
her, ' Let us go to her who is in danger, that if 


for no other reason than by considering the 
sorrows of those who live in the world, we may 
learn from how many excruciating afflictions God 
has rescued us.' When they reached the house 
where the woman lay in danger, she prayed, and 
suddenly the sick woman said to the Saint, with 
difficulty, in a weak, faint voice : ' Have pity on 
me.' And she, standing up with much and 
earnest importunity, prayed to God for her, and 
taking off the leather girdle which she wore, she 
placed it upon her, saying. ' I received this as an 
alms from a great servant of God, and I believe 
that his prayers will cure you at once.' Even as 
she was speaking the woman was delivered of the 
dead child." It was, so Melania insisted, the 
holiness of the ascetic to whom the girdle had 
previously belonged which wrought the miracle. 
For, as her biographer adds, "she always attri- 
buted her good works to the Saints." 

But our Saint's burning thirst for the salvation 
of souls constantly urged her to still greater 
efforts. She laboured unceasingly to bring 
back all those who had strayed from the way of 
salvation. The power of her sweet persuasion 
induced many women who had sinned like Mag- 
dalen to imitate her in her sorrow for sin. 
Melania's biographer, in speaking of her zeal for 
souls, says it would not be possible to tell how 
many pagans, Samaritans, and heretics were con- 


verted by her efforts. Pelagius was in Jerusalem 
when his condemnation was proclaimed, and we 
know for certain that Melania left nothing undone 
to induce him to return to the fold of Christ. 
She actually succeeded in getting him to make a 
declaration which would have fully satisfied all 
the exigencies of Catholic doctrine if the words 
which Pelagius used had not, in his mind, quite a 
different meaning from that which they seemed to 

Scarcely a year had passed since her mother's 
death when Melania experienced a fresh and very 
sharp trial. Towards the end of the year 431, or 
the beginning of 432, Pinianus was taken ill and 
passed to eternal rest. In her great sorrow 
Melania experienced supreme consolation. Those 
two who were dearest to her on earth, who had 
for so many years followed in her footsteps along 
the path of perfection, had reached their goal. 
She had resigned them into the hands of God 
who rewards the good. They had outstripped 
her in the race, and now, crowned with glory 
they awaited her in Paradise, whither she was 
hurrying with flying feet. But, meanwhile, she 
would show of what affection her heart was 
capable. She buried her husband near her 
mother's tomb on the Mount of Olives, and feel- 
ing that the bonds which united her to these 
beloved souls were now drawn closer than ever, 


she remained beside them for four years, re- 
doubling her austerities, her fasts, and her prayers. 
Truly, a supreme proof of how divine love purifies 
and strengthens the tide of human affection. 

At the period of which we are speaking there 
existed on the Mount of Olives two famous 
sanctuaries which were venerated by all Christen- 
dom, namely, the Church built by Saint Helen 
on the spot where Our Lord ascended into Heaven, 
and Constantine's Basilica, erected over the 
grotto where, as we have already said, according 
to tradition, Our Divine Lord used to assemble 
His Apostles and where He discoursed to them 
concerning the end of the world. These two 
great memorial churches had no resident clergy 
attached to them, but were served by the secular 
clergy of Jerusalem, and owing probably to their 
remoteness from the city, did not receive the 
attention which was their due for the precious 
memories which they recalled. Divine worship 
was much neglected, and the diurnal and nocturnal 
offices had ceased altogether. Melania was deeply 
pained at such a state of things. She made 
repeated efforts to have it remedied, but always 
without avail. We know not if her failure was to 
be attributed to her extreme poverty, or to the 
want of faith amongst those to whom she appealed 
for aid. But at last God rewarded her. A 
wealthy and devout Christian sent her a large 


sum of money to dispose of as she pleased. 
Melania at once sent for her chaplain, Gerontius, 
the same who wrote her life, and, giving him the 
money, charged him to set about the immediate 
erection of a monastery for men close to these 
sanctuaries. It was her wish that the chief duty 
of these monks should be the nightly chanting of 
the Divine Office in each of the churches in turn. 
She also desired that they should pray for the 
souls of her dear departed whose mortal remains 
lay close beside them. Melania's faith and zeal 
had their reward. Within the space of a year a 
large and much-admired monastery was erected, 
and she had the consolation of seeing it shortly 
afterwards inhabited by an edifying community of 
monks. Henceforth all the offices of the Church 
were reverently and assiduously carried out upon 
the Mount of Olives. 

Melania, in her great joy at the realization of 
one of her most ardent desires, poured forth her 
soul in thanksgiving to God. But whilst thus 
rejoicing, an unexpected letter arrived which seems 
to have moved her deeply. The letter announced 
the arrival in Constantinople of her uncle, 
Volusianus, Albina's brother, as ambassador from 
Valentinian III. to treat concerning his marriage 
with Eudoxia, the daughter of Theodorus II. 
We cannot doubt that Volusianus expressed a 
strong desire to see his niece after such long years 


of absence. This letter was written about 
November of the year 436. Two deep currents 
of feeling made themselves felt in Melania's soul 
.at this intelligence. Volusianus was a near 
relative, and a man who by his splendid career 
passed in the highest offices of State and in the 
closest relations with the imperial family, had 
won universal esteem. Her natural affection for 
such a near kinsman urged her to gratify his 
desire. But the voice of charity appealed to her 
heart still more strongly than that of nature. 
She well remembered how unweariedly her saintly 
grandmother, the Christian wife of the pagan 
priest, Albinus, had laboured for the conversion 
of this illustrious man. She knew that Saint 
Augustine, too, had zealously worked for the 
same end. But Volusianus, in spite of all efforts, 
still adhered to Paganism. He was now far 
.advanced in years, and there was but too much 
reason to fear that he would die as he had lived. 
It was this thought which urged Melania to set 
forth in the depth of winter, clad in the poorest of 
garments, on a journey to the capital of the 
Eastern Empire. She was urged onwards by a 
supernatural impulse to try to save the soul so 
dear to her. She recommended herself to the 
prayers of the pious in Jerusalem, and, in less 
than a week's time, accompanied by her chaplain 
and others whose names are not recorded, she was 


on her way to Constantinople. By an exceptional 
privilege she was permitted to take advantage of 
the cursus publicus, or system of posts, organised 
by the imperial officials. 

The story of the journey, of Melania's sojourn 
in Constantinople, and of her return to Jerusalem, 
is graphically told by her companion, who was an 
eye-witness of all, and is one of the most interest- 
ing portions of Gerontius's biography. In every 
line of the account we can plainly discern the 
veneration in which this heroine of charity was 
universally held. Throughout her long journey, 
everywhere as she passed, the extraordinary 
spectacle was presented of bishops, monks, and 
virgins, who, quitting for a few brief moments 
their solitary dwellings, crowded down the moun- 
tain sides to salute the holy woman, the rumour 
of whose passing had spread far and wide. They 
knew nothing of her beyond her noble name, and 
the renown of her resplendent virtues, but those 
who thus saw her and spoke with her for the first 
time were so attracted by the charm of her per- 
sonality that they parted from her with strange 
reluctance, and with every mark of regret. 

At Tripoli, Melania met with some rudeness 
from the officials whose duty it was to furnish 
mules for the continuance of the journey. Her 
biographer gives a quaintly interesting account 
of what took place. "I cannot," he says, "pass 


over in silence the marvel which Our Lord worked 
by her means in Tripoli, because, whilst it is a 
good thing to keep hidden the secrets of the king, 
it is praiseworthy to reveal the works of God 
(Job xii. 7). As soon, then, as we arrived, we 
halted at the church of the martyr, Saint 
Leontius, in which church many miracles are 
wrought. And as there were many of us travel- 
ling with the Saint, and we were not furnished 
with a warrant, we found that the administrator 
made great difficulties about the lending of the 
animals for the journey, his name being Messala. 
The Saint was much afflicted, and she remained 
in prayer and vigil near the remains of the holy 
martyr, Leontius, from evening until the animals 
arrived. Now we had not long started, and had 
travelled only some seven miles from the town, 
when the aforesaid administrator came hastening 
after us, very much troubled, and calling, he cried 
out, ' Where is the priest? ' Whereupon I, being 
inexperienced in travelling, feared that perhaps he 
had followed to deprive us of the animals already 
given, and I got down, asking him why he had 
come in this breathless haste. Said he : ' I beg 
to be permitted to speak with the illustrious lady.' 
Then, as soon as he saw her, he threw himself 
on the ground at her feet, and with abundant 
tears, began, ' Pardon me, servant of Christ, that 
I, in ignorance of thy great sanctity, delayed to 


let the animals go.' But she replied, 'God will 
bless thee, my son, for letting us have them at 
all, even though thou gavest them tardily.' Then 
drawing forth the three pieces which I had given 
him as a gratuity, he besought me to take them 
back. As I showed myself unwilling to do this, 
he began to confess to the Saint : ' The whole 
night, myself and thy servant, my wife, were 
much afflicted by the holy martyr Leontms, where- 
fore we both rose quickly and ran to the martyr's 
church, where, not finding you, she turned back, 
not being able to run farther for want of breath, 
but I, having caught up with you, implore your 
Holiness to pray for us both, that the Lord of all 
things may deign to be merciful to us.' When 
we heard this explanation we took the pieces, and 
prayed, and he went away in peace and gladness. 
And the whole company being filled with amaze- 
ment at what had happened, the Saint said : 
' Take courage, for our journey is conformable to 
the will of God.' And as we all implored her to 
tell us clearly the reason, the Saint answered : ' I 
prayed all night to the holy martyr Leontius that 
he would send us a good augury for this journey, 
and behold, unworthy as I am, my request is 
granted.' And then we continued our journey, 
filled with joy, and respectfully saluted by all.' 

When Melania reached Constantinople she was 
met by Lausus, one of the noblest patricians, the 


patron of Palladius, and benefactor of her own 
monasteries. He received her with great honour 
and insisted that she should be his guest. Melania 
was a stranger in Constantinople, yet she had 
scarcely arrived when she was overwhelmed with 
visits from the noblest and most illustrious ladies, 
all anxious to make her acquaintance and to 
converse with her. The reception which she was 
accorded at court and the fascination which she 
exercised over all may be easily inferred from the 
fact that when the moment came for her departure 
both the Emperor and Empress tried by every 
means in their power to detain her, so much did 
they desire to enjoy her company for a longer 

We have said that Melania's primary object in 
journeying to Constantinople was her uncle's 
conversion. She found Volusianus stricken with 
illness, which increased her anxiety and urged her 
to strain every nerve that he might die in the light 
and the faith of Christ and regenerated in the 
waters of baptism. At his first meeting with his 
angel-niece the aged ex-prefect of Rome was 
moved even to tears. Changed indeed she was 
since he had seen her last, and yet more beautiful 
than ever with the celestial beauty of her pure 
soul transfiguring her features. "When her 
uncle," says the biographer, " beheld her mean 
and poor garments, he, who was himself sur- 


rounded with so much earthly luxury, shed tears 
and said to my insignificance : ' Perhaps, sir 
priest, thou dost not know in what delicacy she 
was reared above all others of our house ? And 
now she has given herself up to such austerity 
and poverty.' But with that the Saint, beginning 
to speak, replied : ' Having then learned from 
me, my Lord, how I have trampled on glory and 
riches and every comfort of this life in view of the 
future and eternal riches which the Creator and 
Designer of the universe lavishes on those who 
truly believe in Him, do thou draw near, there- 
fore, I pray thee, to the Fountain of immortality, 
that thus when thou hast renounced perishable 
goods, thou mayst become partaker of those which 
are eternal. Shake thyself free from the demons 
sentenced to burn in everlasting fire, together with 
those who obey their suggestions.' But as he 
perceived that she was bent upon bringing this 
matter before the Emperor and Empress, he was 
greatly troubled, and said : ' I appeal to your 
own piety and good feeling. Do not try to rob 
me of the gift of my free will which God has 
bestowed upon us all from the beginning. I am 
ready and anxious to have the filth of my many 
errors washed away, but if I were to do this by 
the Emperor's orders I should be as one who was 
forced to it, and I should lose the reward of my 
own free choice.'" 


It seems clear that Melania had made a con- 
siderable impression on her uncle, but she would 
not leave the matter there. Though well pleased 
with her success, she now had recourse to the 
saintly Proclus, who at that time filled the see of 
Constantinople, praying him to visit Volusianus, 
and by following up the advantage which she had 
secured, to induce the old man at last to take the 
decisive step. She also begged various other 
illustrious personages in the city and at the court 
to call upon her uncle and thus help in the cause. 

Fresh trials and sufferings, however, awaited 
Melania even in the hour of her joy at the 
prospect of Volusianus' conversion. In the midst 
of her zealous labours to that end, as well as her 
ceaseless efforts, continued from morning to night, 
to reclaim many Constantinopolitan ladies tainted 
with Nestorianism, Melania was suddenly seized 
with terrible pains, which were so acute as to 
paralyse all her limbs and to render her incapable 
of the least movement. So great were her suffer- 
ing that fears were entertained for her life. She 
had lain for seven days in a state of ever-increas- 
ing torture when a messenger arrived from the 
Empress Eudoxia, whose guest Volusianus was, 
to inform Melania that her uncle ardently desired 
to see her. It was imperative that she should 
comply with this request without a moment's 
delay, otherwise Volusianus, who was in the last 


extremity, might die without baptism. Who can 
describe Melania's anguish of mind? She 
entreated that she might be instantly carried to 
the palace, but those around her, fearing for her 
life and recognising the impossibility of moving 
her, refused to comply with her wishes. But she 
only renewed her entreaties. At any cost she 
must see and speak to her uncle. At last they 
yielded, and placing her, more like a corpse than 
a living woman, upon a litter, they bore her to the 

Meanwhile, Volusianus had been told that 
Melania was ill and unable to go to him. The 
dying man perhaps, who can tell ? beholding her 
in spirit beside his couch, recalled her loving 
exhortations. Touched by Divine Grace, he 
requested Baptism, which was administered by 
the bishop Proclus who had been summoned in all 
haste. Another messenger was at once despatched 
to Melania, who had already reached the Forum 
of Constantine on her way to the palace. Here 
the messenger met her and communicated to her 
the glad tidings. So great was Melania's joy that 
she had scarcely heard the news when she found 
herself wonderfully better. She was able to ascend 
the staircase unaided, to take her seat beside the 
Empress, and to console the last hours of the 
dying man, at whose bedside she remained 
throughout the entire night. 


At the dawn of the following day, which was 
the feast of the Epiphany, Volusianus, who had 
communicated the day before, again partook of 
the Blessed Eucharist, this being now the third 
time. Soon afterwards, Melania received his last 
sigh, as his rejoicing spirit passed to Heaven. 
Just before breathing his last, Volusianus turned 
to his niece, who was suggesting to him ejacula- 
tions of gratitude for the wondrous favour he had 
received, and said to her : " This gift of God is 
the reward of your efforts." Nor can we doubt 
it when we remember that Melania succeeded 
where the wisdom, the eloquence, and the sanctity 
of Augustine had failed. Those around that 
death-bed, filled with wonder, glorified the loving 
designs of Divine Providence. It was plain that 
the embassy of Volusianus to Constantinople, 
and Melania's journey from Jerusalem had all 
been brought about to the end that the soul so 
earnestly pleaded for might be gained to God. 

Melania's apostolic zeal during her brief sojourn 
in Constantinople was not restricted solely to her 
uncle's conversion. A far wider field had been 
opened to it there. We are all acquainted with the 
serious injury inflicted on the orthodox faith in 
that city by the heresy of Nestorius. The 
(Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, held five years 
previously, had deposed Nestorius, who, having 
in vain endeavoured to provoke a reaction in his 



favour, was condemned to exile. But he still had 
warm partisans in Constantinople, chiefly amongst 
the nobles, supporters both of his doctrine and of 
his own personal ambitions. Melania, urged by 
that ardent zeal for the purity of faith for which 
she was remarkable, and by her intimate friend- 
ship with Cyril of Alexandria, who was the . 
great champion of the dogma of Mary's Divine 
Maternity, which the heresiarch had impugned, 
defended the Church's teaching with a force of 
conviction impossible to be described. 

Numbers of patrician ladies and men of letters 
sought the Saint in order to converse with her 
upon this burning question of the hour. Melania, 
all day long, from morning until nightfall, reasoned 
unweariedly with them. She succeeded in winning 
back to the truth many who had been drawn into 
error, whilst she confirmed others in their faith. 
Her powerful words, so full of grace and inspired 
by God, were a source of help to all who came 
into contact with her. 

While thus busily employed, Melania observed 
the fortieth day after her uncle's death, according 
to custom, by assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of 
the Mass which was duly offered for the repose of 
his soul. Desirous of spending Easter in Jeru- 
salem, she then began to make preparations for 
her departure from Constantinople. Having at 
last overcome the reluctance of the imperial court 


to allow her to take her leave, she set out on her 
return journey towards the end of February. 
The winter of that year (437) was the severest 
on record. All day long she journeyed through 
snow falling so heavily as to obliterate every 
vestige of earth and sky. Nothing seemed visible 
but the rude caravanseries where the travellers 
rested at night. None the less, in spite of the 
great severity of the weather, many bishops, 
desirous of testifying their great veneration for 
Melania, went to meet her as she passed along, 
and tried to induce her to refrain from continuing 
her journey in such bitter cold. But this stout- 
hearted woman held her course undeterred by 
snow-drifts sometimes so deep that it was almost 
impossible for the conveyance to proceed, while 
she frequently traversed long stretches of the road 
on foot. All these manifold hardships of the way 
she bore with cheerfulness, comforting her fellow- 
travellers, and speaking to them of God, while at 
the same time she rigorously observed the Lenten 
fast. So great was her desire to behold once 
more her beloved Jerusalem and the monasteries 
so dear to her heart, that she seemed to be borne 
along on wings. She reached Jerusalem in Holy 
Week, after a most fatiguing journey of forty-four 

When taking leave of the Emperor Theodosius, 
in Constantinople, Melania had earnestly entreated 


him to allow the Empress to visit the Holy 
Places. In the following year (438), Eudoxia, 
with her husband's consent, visited Palestine for 
the first time. 

The Byzantine historians make brief and con- 
fusing allusions to this visit. We learn from the 
Empress herself that whilst her anxiety to vener- 
ate the principal monuments of the Christian 
religion had chiefly led her to undertake such a 
journey, yet, at the same time, her ardent desire 
of again beholding the holy woman whom she had 
previously seen in Constantinople powerfully in- 
fluenced her in this resolution. Eudoxia's acts 
proved the sincerity of her words. During her 
sojourn at Jerusalem she spent each day in the 
company of Melania, from whom she found it im- 
possible to tear herself. Now if we bear in mind 
that Eudoxia, the celebrated Athenian, was the 
most cultured woman of those days, we can 
easily understand that her great esteem and affec- 
tion for Melania did not spring from any super- 
ficial feminine impressionability, but arose from 
solid appreciation of the sublime virtue and the 
extraordinary gifts with which the Saint was 

When Melania heard of the arrival of the 
Empress she decided, after some hesitation, to go 
to meet her as an act of courtesy to a sovereign 
whom she regarded as earnestly devoted to God's 


service. The meeting took place at Sidonia. The 
Empress received Melania with the greatest cor- 
diality and every mark of respect. She then 
made her solemn entry into the Holy City, ac- 
companied by the Saint whom she so much 
revered. Melania was naturally much gladdened 
and consoled by this visit, but, at the same time, 
it was the cause of great anxiety to her. On her 
return, the preceding year, from Constantinople, 
she had been pleased to find that the monks ot 
the newly-founded monastery on the summit of 
the Mount of Olives were discharging all the 
sacred offices entrusted to them with the utmost 
fervour and regularity. It was then that her 
ardent piety suggested to her the erection of a 
small church in honour of the martyrs near the 
scene of the Ascension and adjoining the monas- 
tery. The care of this church was to be entrusted 
to the monks, and Melania desired that after her 
death the Holy Sacrifice should be offered there 
for her own soul and that of her beloved Pini- 
anus. The building was in the course of con- 
struction when the Empress visited Jerusalem, 
and she expressed an earnest desire that it should 
be finished as soon as possible in order that she 
might be present at its consecration. The 
sovereign's wishes were carried out, and Eudoxia 
was present at the sacred ceremony. After the 
relics of the martyrs had been deposited under 


the altar, the Empress was passing into the 
monastery when she slipped and fell, spraining 
her ankle severely. She suffered great pain 
and it was found necessary to carry her to her 
residence in Jerusalem. Melania's grief and 
anxiety can scarcely be described. She hastened 
to the little church, but just consecrated, and there 
before the relics of the martyrs, with one of her 
sisters in religion, remained prostrate in prayer 
until word was brought to her that the Empress 
was free from all pain. Eudoxia regarded her 
speedy recovery as due as much to the prayers of 
the servant of God as to the intercession of the 

At last the hour for the departure of the 
Empress arrived. Melania accompanied her as 
far as Csesarea, where the last farewells were said. 
The Empress was deeply moved, shedding tears 
when she took leave of her saintly companion. 

The hour was now rapidly approaching when 
Melania was to receive the reward of all her 
labours. After a life which had been a resplen- 
dent model of evangelical perfection, a life of the 
most complete self-renunciation and detachment 
from all things earthly, a life ever glowing with 
the flames of divine charity, filled with good 
works and heroic conflicts, she was now about to 
receive a crown of immortal glory. The Saint 
had entered upon her fifty-seventh year when she 


perceived the first heralds of the dawn of ever- 
lasting day, and henceforth in thought and spirit 
she dwelt in the heavenly city to which she was 
hastening. Her biographer, who was present at 
her last illness and death, has narrated the scene 
so vividly that we seem rather to be spectators 
than mere listeners to another's account. These 
pages in which the Saint's death is narrated are 
undoubtedly the most beautiful and touching in 
the whole biography. As we propose to quote 
this account at length, we will only touch here 
upon one or two points which seem likely to be 
helpful for its fuller comprehension. 

It was Christmas Eve of the year 439. Me- 
lania wished to keep vigil, for the last time, as 
she said, in the Grotto of the Nativity. Accom- 
panied only by her much-loved cousin, the virgin 
Paula, she repaired to Bethlehem, and as she 
desired, passed the entire night divinely happy in 
the sacred cave. At dawn she assisted at the 
most holy sacrifice of the Mass. At the con- 
clusion of the divine mysteries she turned to her 
cousin, and to the latter's great consternation 
announced that her death was near at hand. 

On the Feast of Saint Stephen she expressed a 
wish to visit once more the Basilica where the 
Martyr's venerated remains reposed. Accom- 
panied by her chaplain and taking with her, 
according to custom, the bread and wine for the 


Divine Oblation this is a detail which we owe 
entirely to the Latin version of the Life she pro- 
ceeded to the Basilica, where she assisted at Mass. 
She then returned to the monastery, which was 
distant about a mile, and took part in the recital 
of the Divine Office. At its conclusion the Sisters 
greeted her affectionately, wishing her many years 
of prolonged life. In response to these greetings, 
she declared that the hour of her death was at 
hand, an announcement which filled all present 
with profound distress. She then repaired to the 
recently-built church adjoining the monastery she 
had founded for men. There, kneeling before the 
altar, she bade farewell to the monks and to the 
earth in a very beautiful prayer, each word of 
which came straight from that heart so filled with 
humility and so wholly enamoured of God. She 
had scarcely finished when she was seized with 
fits of shivering. Pleurisy declared itself, and 
before another week had passed all was over. 
Melania spent those few remaining days of life in 
prayer and in exhortations to those around her, 
then, as ever, edifying all by her sublime virtue. 
The mournful news of her serious illness spread 
rapidly, causing general consternation and sorrow. 
The dying Saint, although suffering torments of 
pain, received all who came to her with marvellous 
sweetness and serenity, and had an affectionate 
and consoling word for everyone. Juvenal, the 


Bishop of Jerusalem, visited her with all his 
clergy, and gave her Holy Communion with his 
own hands. And here again we learn an interest- 
ing liturgical detail recorded only in the Latin 
text of her Life, that Melania, in receiving Holy 
Communion, answered "Amen" to the words 
spoken in giving the Sacred Host, and kissed the 
Bishop's right hand. Melania earnestly recom- 
mended to his care the monasteries she had 
founded. On Sunday, the last day of the year 
439, the supreme moment came. It was the hour 
of sunset. In the west the sun was sinking and 
bathing all the world in floods of golden light, as 
from the east there rose towards Heaven another 
sun radiant with a splendour that never wanes. 
The Latin text seems to speak of a vision of 
angels seen by the dying Saint just before the 
end came ; but, on the other hand, it tells us 
nothing of a second visit of the bishop which was 
paid to her late in the afternoon. Melania's last 
words were those of holy Job : Sicut Domino 
placuit, itafactum est, and then calmly closing her 
eyes on earth, the Saint passed to the eternal 
enjoyment of the Beatific Vision. 

But, as already mentioned above, the account of 
Saint Melania's last week on earth has been given 
in some detail by her biographer, and nothing can 
quite take the place of the impression which is 
derived from reading his own actual words. It is 


easy to see that Gerontius wrote with a deep 
sense of the great privilege and honour conferred 
upon " his insignificance " it is by this or some 
similar indirect Oriental phrase that he nearly 
always refers to himself by his close personal 
participation in the events described. The trans- 
lation which follows is made from the Greek text, 
as this is somewhat fuller than the Latin and is 
also superior to the latter in point of literary 
form : 

" After some time, like an excellent runner who, 
having completed the course, is now eager for the 
prize, Melania ardently desired to depart from the 
world and to be with Christ. For she sighed 
also, longing, as the Apostle says, ' to be clothed 
upon with our habitation that is from Heaven ' 
(II. Corinth., v. 2.) The holy festival time of 
the birth of the Saviour having arrived, she said 
to her cousin, the lady Paula, ' Let us go to holy 
Bethlehem, for I know not if I shall see this feast 
again in the flesh. Therefore they repaired 
thither, and, having celebrated the entire vigil, 
they participated at daybreak in the Divine 
Mysteries. And then the Saint, as if she had 
received warning from God, spoke these words to 
her cousin : ' Pray for me. Henceforth, thou 
shalt celebrate the birthday of Our Lord alone, 
because the end of my mortal life is near at hand.' 
And on hearing these words, she (Paula) was 


greatly troubled. But when they had returned 
from Bethlehem to the monastery, the Saint, 
wholly disregarding the fatigue of the vigil and 
the journey, went immediately to the Grotto and 
prayed for a long time. 

" The next day we repaired to the basilica of the 
holy proto-martyr Stephen for the commemoration 
of his death, and having celebrated the liturgy 
there, we returned to the monastery. And in the 
evening, I read aloud first, then three Sisters read, 
last of all she read from the Acts the account of 
the death of Saint Stephen. As soon as she had 
finished the lesson, all the Sisters said to the Saint : 
' Good health to thee, mayst thou for many years 
yet celebrate many feasts of the Saints.' Where- 
upon, as if she had received an assurance from on 
high, she answered, * Good health to you, also, 
but you will never again hear me recite the 
lessons.' And they were all filled with anguish 
to hear such words, because they knew that she 
had spoken in a spirit of prophecy. And, like 
one who was about to pass from this world to the 
Lord, she left them her spiritual testament in 
these words, ' Take great care, I pray you, after 
I have departed, to celebrate the Divine Office 
with all fear and vigilance, because it is written : 
" Cursed be he tha doth the work of the Lord 
negligently." Therefore, although in a short 
time I shall be parted from you in body, and shall 


be no more with you, God, nevertheless, who is 
eternal, and who fills all things, is with you Him- 
self, and also knows the depths of each one's 
heart. Therefore, having this continually before 
your eyes, keep your souls in charity and chastity 
until the end, knowing that you shall appear be- 
fore His tremendous judgment seat, and that each 
of you shall bear away either the reward of your 
labours or the punishment of your faults.' And 
whilst all experienced lively grief because they 
were about to lose so excellent a mistress, and 
one inspired by God, she, in leaving them, said to 
my meanness (i.e., to my insignificant self) ' Let 
us go to the monks' oratory to pray, for there also 
rest the relics of Saint Stephen.' Accordingly, 
being thus invited by the Saint, I followed her in 
great grief, and when we were within the church, 
as if she were already the companion of the holy 
martyrs, she prayed aloud thus, with tears in her 
eyes : ' O Lord, the God of the holy martyrs, 
who didst know all things before the beginning, 
Thou knowest also that from the beginning I 
chose to love Thee with my whole heart, and that 
my bones have cleaved to my flesh from fear of 
Thee, for Thou hast formed me in my mother's 
womb, and I have consecrated my body and soul 
to Thee, and Thou, holding me by Thy right 
hand, hast led me with Thy counsel, but as I, 
being clothed in humanity, have many times 


sinned both in word and deed against Thee, who 
alone art pure and without sin, accept, there- 
fore, my prayer which with tears I offer Thee 
through Thy holy ones, the victors in the arena, 
and purify me, who am Thy handmaiden, that 
departing to Thee, the passage of my soul may 
be hastened, and that I may not be detained by 
malignant demons of the air ; that so indeed I 
may pass to Thee without stain, escorted by Thy 
holy angels, and may be made worthy of Thy 
heavenly marriage feast, after hearing that 
blessed greeting of Thine which those in whom 
Thou art well-pleased shall receive from Thee : 
" Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the 
Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation 
of the world." For ineffable are Thy mercies 
and the fullness of Thy compassion, and Thou 
savest all those that trust in Thee.' Then, again 
addressing her prayer to the holy martyrs, she 
prayed : ' Athletes of the Lord, who, in confessing 
Him, did shed your blood, have compassion on 
your humble servant, who has already venerated 
your holy remains, and as you have always lis- 
tened to me, so now do you that are all-powerful 
with the God of clemency, intercede for me that 
He may receive my soul in peace, and may keep 
the monasteries in His fear.' And even before 
her prayer was ended, the shivering of fever 
seized upon her poor weak body. And returning 


to the monastery of the virgins, we found that the 
Sisters were still engaged upon the Divine Office. 
And whilst I, not being able to bear up any 
longer, by reason of the anguish which over- 
whelmed me, withdrew to take a little rest, she 
went to take part in the Office. And the Sisters, 
perceiving that she was falling grievously ill, 
besought her to rest a little, because she had not 
the strength to stand upright. But she would 
not consent, adding : ' Not until we have finished 
the psalms of the morning Office.' And having com- 
pleted the whole service she went to lie down, 
and there being seized with a pain in her side, she 
fell into a mortal sickness. Whereupon she 
called for my wretched self and all the Sisters, and 
said to me. ' Behold, I am going to the Lord; 
pray, therefore, for me.' And when I heard these 
words my heart was wrung with sorrow. 

" Then, turning to the virgins, she addressed 
them in these words : ' I beg of you also to pray 
for me, for never have I wished evil to any of 
you. But if, indeed, I have sometimes spoken a 
harsh word to any one, I did it out of love for 
your souls. Regard yourselves, therefore, as the 
true servants of Christ ; spend the years of life 
which remain to you in all discipline, so that 
having your lamps lighted, you may be ready in 
that day for the coming of the Heavenly Bride- 
groom. Behold, therefore, I commend you to 


God, who is all-powerful to preserve your souls 
and bodies. I also commend you to his reverence 
our priest here, and I implore you not to cause 
him distress in any way, but be you subject to 
him in all humility, knowing that he bears the 
burthen of you all in God's place, and that she 
who resists him and does not obey thereby dis- 
pleases God.' Having said these words, she 
manifested a desire to be carried to the oratory, 
saying : ' Carry me near the holy martyrs.' Her 
illness increasing, she said to us : ' The day is 
closing in.' And all shed bitter tears, but the 
virgins, above all, wept, for they were about to 
lose the mother who truly and tenderly loved 
them. Then the Saint, perceiving that my heart 
also was filled with sorrow, said to me on the 
fifth day of her illness it was, in fact, the day 
she died ' My son, all your prayers and tears 
are of no avail, for I have heard a voice which 
tells my heart that it is necessary that I, accord- 
ing to God's holy dispensation, must break these 
earthly bonds and depart to the Lord.' It was 
about daybreak on Sunday, and she said to me, 
1 May it please you to offer the Holy Sacrifice for 
us.' And whilst I offered, I could not speak loud 
on account of my great anguish. But she who 
was even then in her agony, when she did not 
hear the prayers,* sent word to me as I stood at 

* The word used is epiclesis (eTrlK\i)ffis), i.e., invocation, and may 
here have a technical sense. 


the altar, ' Raise your voice that I may hear the 
words of the invocation.' 

" After she had thus assisted at the Divine 
Mysteries, the bishop, most dear to God, arrived r 
accompanied by his clergy, and after they had 
exchanged suitable words concerning the salva- 
tion of the soul, finally, the Saint said to him : ' I 
have commended to you our priest and the monas- 
teries, and I have provided for them all like a 
good shepherd for his faithful sheep, following the 
footsteps of the Master.' And he, beholding 
how much goodness was about to depart from the 
earth, was greatly troubled. The Saint having 
asked for Communion from him also, took leave 
of him in peace. Then the pious monks of her 
monastery presented themselves, and she said to 
them ; ' On the point of departing from this 
precarious life, I bid you farewell, and I pray you 
in all things to give comfort to our priest, know- 
ing that thereby you please the Lord of all things, 
for, being free from all responsibility, he became 
your servant for love of our Lord, and while he 
is not obliged to do so, he yet bears the burthen 
of you all.' 

" Then the monks of the other monasteries, 
and very many from the city, came. And this 
truly noble woman, although afflicted with agonis- 
ing pain, showed herself mindful of everything, 
and with a brave heart and much patience spoke 


to all words of farewell such as were befitting. 
Then the lady Paula, her cousin, together with 
her own friends, came to her, and to all she spoke 
words of admonition, but, in particular, she con- 
soled her cousin who was faint with sorrow at her 
departure, and, with many prayers and blessings, 
took leave of her. Last of all, she addressed 
these words to my miserable self : ' It is, indeed, 
superfluous to make appeal to the love of God in 
thy heart that thou mayst take thought for the 
monasteries. For, whilst I was yet in the flesh, 
thou didst bear the care and the burthen of all, 
and didst help in everything. Therefore I now 
recommend to thee the monasteries, and implore 
thee that now, much more than ever, thou wilt 
undertake this charge, for which God will reward 
thee in the life to come.' And when she had 
bidden all farewell in peace, she added : ' Let us 
pray.' And thus she dismissed everyone, saying : 
' Let me rest, now.' About the ninth hour she 
began to grow weaker, and we, thinking that she 
was dead, tried to stretch her feet. But reviving 
somewhat, she said to my worthless self, in a faint 
voice : ' The hour has not yet come.' And 
although I had not strength to bear the sorrow 
with which I was overpowered, I answered : 
' When the hour comes wilt thou give us warn- 
ing? ' And she answered : ' Yes.' This she said, 
as I conceive, to signify that it was not necessary 



to straighten her limbs after death. In the mean- 
time holy men remained there with me, for this 
was always her prayer, to render up her spirit in 
the midst of Saints. And then there came again 
the bishop, most dear to God, together with the 
anchorets from around Eleutheropolis, most holy 
men, and he said to the Saint : ' Thou, 
who whilst on earth didst fight the good fight, 
dost indeed go gladly to the Lord, and all the 
angels rejoice thereat ; but we can only sorrow at 
the separation from thy company, which was of 
great profit to all.' And she replied with these 
last words : ' As the Lord willed, so is it done.' 
And then, tranquilly and placidly in gladness and 
rejoicing, she gave up her holy soul to God the 
same evening of Sunday, that thus might be 
manifested her great love for the Lord and for 
His holy Resurrection. There was no need to 
lay out her saintly body, for her feet were stretched 
and her hands clasped upon her breast, and her 
eyes naturally closed. Therefore, according as 
she had arranged, the holy Fathers gathered from 
various parts, and having all night, with great 
impressiveness, recited the Office and the 
lessons, they bore her to the grave. The gar- 
ments in which she was buried were worthy of 
her sanctity, and I think it well to call attention 
thereto for the benefit of those who may light 
upon this narrative. 


"She had the tunic of a certain Saint (i.e., ascetic) 
and the maphorion of another servant of God ; 
from another, part of her apron ; from another, 
her cincture, which last she also wore in life ; 
while her hairy cowl also had belonged to another. 
Then in place of a pillow we used the cowl of 
skin once owned by another Saint, which we 
arranged under her venerable head. With reason 
was her body thus robed in the garments of those 
whose virtues she had acquired for herself in life. 
She had no linen garments except a sheet in 
which we enshrouded her already dressed as she 

"The Saint's prayer had been heard. She 
ascended to Heaven with rejoicing, having put on 
virtue as a garment. Wherefore the powers of 
darkness did not molest her, because they could 
find upon her. nothing of their own. But the holy 
angels joyfully received her, for in her corruptible 
body she imitated their immunity from earthly 
passions, and the holy prophets and apostles, 
whose actions and doctrines she carried out in her 
own life, made her one of their choir ; and the 
holy martyrs, whose memory she glorified and 
whose conflicts she voluntarily took upon herself, 
met her in gladness. Thus she receives in 


Heaven the things which eye hath not seen, nor 
ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of 
man to conceive, those things I mean which God 


hath prepared for those who love Him. To 
whom be glory and power for ever and ever. 

Such is the doxology with which Gerontius, 
according to Greek custom, concludes his account 
of the life of the holy virgin, who had been to 
him in turn friend, mother, and patron. Even 
whilst yet alive Melania had been in a sense 
canonized by two illustrious Fathers of the 
Church. St. Paulinus, who had known her from 
infancy, called her " the blessed child," benedzcta 
parvtila, and " the joy of Heaven," gaudia cosli. 
St. Augustine, who knew her in her maturer 
years, regarded her, and her husband also, 
as " true lights of the Church," lumina Ecclesia, by 
reason of their virtue and their example in the 
midst of a most corrupt society. 

Soon after her death the Church of the East, 
with supreme veneration, placed her on her altars 
amongst those who were most illustrious for 
sanctity in those early ages of faith. Every year 
her feast was celebrated with great rejoicings and 
with the singing of canticles composed in her 
honour. Her name was also inscribed, though 
later, upon the Church's roll-call of Saints in the 
West. It is only in her native land that her 
memory is in oblivion. 


19 968 860 


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